Unilever on the Role Industry Can Play in Food Waste

According to Unilever’s president of foods and refreshment, Hanneke Faber, the food industry has a critical and urgent role to play to resolve the food waste crisis.

“The private sector has a critical and urgent role to play to resolve this crisis and we have to stop admiring the problem and get to work,” she said.

More than 900 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year, according to the UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index. Around 60 percent of that waste is from households, which discard 11 percent of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain. Food services and retail outlets waste 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Food waste has substantial environmental, social, and economic impacts, according to the report. It estimates 8-10 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed when losses before consumer level are considered.

“Reducing food waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions, slow the destruction of nature through land conversion and pollution, enhance the availability of food and thus reduce hunger and save money at a time of global recession,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

“If we want to get serious about tackling climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, businesses, governments and citizens around the world have to their part to reduce food waste.”

Unilever is embracing various strategies to meet its commitment to halving food waste across its direct global operations by 2025.

“Increasing the use of predictive analytics has been really helpful for us to predict which products are going to go out of date and which should move faster to sell or donate them versus having them go to landfill.”

The FMCG giant is also collaborating with start-ups and social enterprises to address waste. For example, it is partnering with a start-up called Orbisk in its foodservice business. Orbisk is a digital food waste monitoring app allowing chefs to measure and save on food they throw away. Orbisk promises to give hotels, restaurants, and cafés the ability to reduce food waste by up to 50 percent and improve profit margins by 5 percent.

With the food waste problem far bigger among households than businesses, Unilever is also exploring initiatives that assist consumers plan their shopping and their meals more carefully. These include Hellmann’s ‘Make Taste, Not Waste’ campaign, launched in partnership with Olio, a social enterprise that connects surplus foods with people who need or wish to consume it.

The ‘Make Taste, Not Waste’ initiative offers online recipe ideas for consumers looking for ways to use leftover items that might otherwise end up in the bin.

“We’re seeing really good uptake on this with consumers,” concluded Faber.