One of the U.K.’s largest supermarkets announced last week it would donate all of its unsold food products to charity by the end of 2017. Tesco is partnering with food sharing organization, FareShare, to ensure products are no longer simply thrown away.
“We believe no food that could be eaten should be wasted. That’s why we have committed that no surplus food should go to waste from our stores,” said chief executive Dave Lewis when he announced the new initiative.
The food giant reported that in 2015 alone, 55,400 tonnes of food were thrown out at Tesco stores and distribution centers. Globally, the problem is just as pronounced. A 2013 report by the U.K. Institution of Mechanical Engineers found two billion tonnes of food (over four trillion pounds) are wasted worldwide every year — equivalent to half the world’s food supply. In Europe, 89 million tonnes are wasted annually, a figure expected to rise if no action is taken. Meanwhile, hunger rates in the U.K. have increased. Oxfam documented 500,000 visits to food banks per year, the Independent reported, also noting a spike in illnesses related to malnutrition.
“We know it’s an issue our customers really care about, and wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need,” Lewis said while announcing Tesco’s new initiative.
Lindsey Boswell, chair of FareShare, expressed excitement toward the new project:
“We are delighted to be offering our store level solution in partnership with Tesco who are demonstrating real leadership in tackling food surplus,” she said.
The program is an extension of Tesco’s Community Food Connection, a six-month pilot program launched in 2015 in 14 stores nationwide. That initiative fed 22 tonnes of food — the equivalent of 55,000 meals — to those in need. As the Independent reported, the program was previously rolled out in “15 big cities and regions, including Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton and Portsmouth … and will gradually be introduced in all stores.”
In addition to committing to working with over 5,000 charities through FareShare, Tesco also provided resources to develop FareShare’s FoodCloud, a digital platform where stores “upload information about their unsold surplus food and send a text message to the charities they have been matched with telling them what’s available. The charity then picks up the food for free, turning it into meals for local people in need.”
“FareShare FoodCloud is a natural extension of our work together which has already provided nine million meals to help feed vulnerable people,” Boswell said. She praised Tesco’s involvement in developing the FoodCloud, noting the company had “spent considerable time and investment to develop their internal processes and technology to create a reliable and consistent programme.”
Before the FoodCloud launched last week, 72 organizations had already signed up to receive food from Tesco.
Tesco is the second major grocery chain to launch a food sharing program. Morrison’s began a similar “community champions” program last year, which has become a nationwide project. Both chains have suffered dwindling sales in recent years, and both — along with other U.K. groceries — were previously implicated in the high volume of wasted food. Whether or not Tesco’s and Morrison’s newfound generosity is a genuine initiative to help the poor, or part of a branding effort to increase likeability, may ultimately be irrelevant, as both stores’ efforts are effectively helping those in need. With the success of its new efforts to help the hungry, Tesco has encouraged other major retailers to launch similar efforts.
The U.K. grocery store programs parallel other voluntary efforts to tackle the food waste problem. In California, college student-turned-app-developer, Komal Ahmad, launched the Feeding Forward app, which connects restaurants and companies to charities and sends drivers to pick up unused food to give to those in need. That program has fed nearly 700,000 people in San Francisco by delivering 831,000 pounds of food. When it received media attention last year, individuals around the globe reached out to Ahmad, eager to establish similar programs in their cities. As CNET summarized, Feeding Forward is only one example of technology-based efforts to help the hungry:
“On-demand food delivery service Munchery, founded in 2010, donates its excess meals to food banks in the Bay Area. An app called LeftoverSwap, created by a pair of entrepreneurs two years ago, helps people give away their leftovers to strangers. And the Food Cowboy app, founded in 2012, gets surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants and delivers it to soup kitchens.”
As Ahmad has said, food waste is “literally the world’s dumbest problem,” but with an increased focus on solutions, like Tesco’s, there is hope it may someday be solved.