Finding new weapons for the war on food waste

With 270,000 tonnes of food being wasted in the UK each year, the desire to reduce the amount we throw away has been building. However, while consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the cost to the environment and their wallets, it seems there are lots of barriers to behavioural changes. Some brands have wised up to this pent-up urge to ‘do the right thing’ and introduced new ways of helping us live less wastefully. Here we take a look at several of these initiatives.

‘Waste not, want a lot’ as restaurants make-over leftovers

The runaway success of Dan Barber’s pop-up restaurant WASTed, which featured on Selfridge’s roof-top this summer, is evidence of our appetite for a less disposable food culture – his elegant, original dishes transforming surplus into surprise and delight. High-end venues like Silo in Brighton and Tiny Leaf in London have shown the concept can work for even the most particular of audiences. Meanwhile, at a more everyday level, the Real Junk Food Project has adopted an innovative approach – taking unwanted food from sources as diverse as retailers, restaurants and allotments and giving it fresh life in its cafés. The concept has provoked such interest it’s even featured in The Archers, with Jill volunteering at the Happy Friends café where customers pay what they feel the meal is worth.

Making 2nd best look artisan

Who knew that food waste could be so cool? Rubies in the Rubble’s relishes, such as banana chilli ketchup, are made completely from unwanted products, and are now stocked by Waitrose, Ocado, Eat and Virgin Trains. South London’s Oddbox supplies produce that doesn’t meet supermarkets’ exacting specifications in terms of size and shape. In the US, Misfit Juicery makes use of the fruit and vegetables that farmers can’t sell – the ‘let’s feed people, not trash cans’ tagline being a neat summation of the movement’s aims.

Training the British in the value of doggy bags

The campaign ‘Too Good to Waste’ unites top Michelin chefs and London restaurants in encouraging diners to ask for a ‘doggy box’ (more sustainable than a bag). Though some Brits have had to be persuaded that this practice is not the preserve of Americans, it’s gradually moving to the mainstream, with brands from Feng Sushi to Ping Pong and Leon taking part. Another trend has seen brands slash prices at the end of the trading day – Starbucks, for example, selling unused food at a 50% discount during the last hour, with all proceeds going to Action Against Hunger. Similarly, Yo Sushi is offering ‘magic boxes’ full of surplus but still fresh sushi for £3.50 each. Again, users are left with that warm feeling they are saving cash and the planet all at one sitting!

Good food doing good

The war on waste has also led to growing numbers of grocers and hospitality brands linking up with charities to donate unwanted food to the needy. As part of the Evening Standard’s Food for London campaign, the Felix Project collects the surplus from businesses including Sainsbury’s, Paul’s Bakery and Mr Organic and delivers to local causes. The initiative has been boosted by the support of high-profile influencers such as Deliciously Ella Mills.

Turning all of us into anti-waste soldiers

It’s clear this war is being waged in many new and interesting ways, but it would be easy to get carried away and believe the problem is about be consigned to history. Some brands may have taken steps in the right direction but changing the habits of the population at large is liable to prove difficult. Yet this home-front is a crucial battleground – the average UK household currently wasting £500’s worth of food a year. We tend to be lazy. We often feel too busy to think about the issue. The challenge is to make it easy for us to take part – solutions that fit in with our fluid lives. This could mean everything from retailers providing more choice around pack sizes, to collecting unwanted food from consumers and giving it to food banks. The cause isn’t a fad; it really does matter to people. What we need are ways of cutting wasted food that feel as natural as filling our trollies.


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