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Our fight on food waste – from production to plate

In our recent Future Foods announcement we pledged to halve food waste across our operations from factory to shelf by 2025 – five years ahead of the UN’s SDG 2030 target. Our accelerated plan of action is fuelled by the urgency of what is not only a humanitarian but also an environmental and economic crisis.

The cost of food waste

  • One-third of the world’s food is wasted
  • Over 800 million people suffer from hunger
  • 4.5 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year
  • Wasted food accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions globally than all of the commercial flights we take each year
  • If we all stopped wasting bread at home in the UK for a year, it could have the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as planting 5.3 million trees.
Image with text block - Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

“THE GOOD FOOD WE THROW AWAY HAS AN IMPACT ON OUR ENVIRONMENT AND CONTRIBUTES TO CLIMATE CHANGE BECAUSE WE ARE WASTING NOT ONLY THE FOOD BUT THE VALUABLE RESOURCES THAT HAVE GONE INTO CREATING IT TOO - FROM THE LAND, FERTILISERS AND WATER THAT WAS USED FOR GROWING IT TO THE GREENHOUSE GASES CREATED FROM ITS PRODUCTION AND TRANSPORTATION.” – WRAP, Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

Our fight on food waste

Now we are ready to announce how we are driving wide-reaching change beyond the boundaries of our business and tackling food loss and waste across the food chain – from production to plate.

Over the next years, globally, we will focus on the following five areas of action:

  • Halving food waste in our direct operations by 2025
  • Achieving zero waste to landfill and ensuring no good food is destroyed
  • Enrolling key supply partners to follow our lead and tackle food loss and waste in their operations
  • Helping our food service customers avoid food waste through education, partnerships and services and finding ways of redistributing surplus food
  • Using our brands to help our consumers waste less food at home.

Through these goals we hope to build a more sustainable business and showcase what is possible.

We know, of course, that as one of the world’s biggest food manufacturers we have a role to play and that we cannot do it alone. To achieve sustainable change at scale we need our partners in our complicated food chain to join us, from production and manufacturing to retail and consumption.

Partnership will be the key to our success. By using the most innovative technologies to combat food waste and teaming up with organisations and charities that redistribute food, as well as like-minded businesses and NGOs, we can make positive change at scale across the food chain.

Find out more about how Unilever is addressing food loss globally through innovation and collaboration here.

In the UK & Ireland, we were a founding signatory of The Courtauld 2025 Commitment which brings together over ninety organisations to make food and drink production and consumption more sustainable for the future. All signatories have committed to a collective ten-year target to cut the carbon and waste associated with food & drink by at least one-fifth.

To progress towards The Courtauld 2025 Commitment, as well as Unilever’s global food waste reduction roadmap, we’re taking action across our supply chain to reduce the waste associated with making our products, as well as using our brands and external voice to reduce waste in households and the hospitality industry.

Here’s three ways we’re taking action against food waste in the UK & Ireland

1. Redistribution and re-use at our factories

Volunteers for Unilevers charity partner Fare Share smiling with a large donation

Food production can result in excess that often goes to waste. We are working hard across our operations to ensure circular processes that avoid any good food being destroyed.

In the UK, we use WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap to consistently measure and report our food waste in our operations. We follow the principles of the food waste hierarchy to ensure we are reducing our food waste in a way that is most beneficial for people and planet.

Over 190 tonnes of food from our UK factories was redistributed to feeding people in 2019.

Wherever possible we redistribute our food products, that cannot be distributed through usual retail channels, through our charity partner networks to help address the issue of food poverty in the UK and support those in need to access food and meals.

One of our partners, Community Shop, is a social enterprise supporting local communities by giving people access to support, development and learning opportunities, and access to deeply discounted food. Another partner, FareShare, saves surplus food from going to waste by redistributing it to charities who turn it into meals.

If not possible to redistribute our food waste via our charity partners, it is used to feed animals or to power our factories.

More than a quarter of the food waste from our factories in the UK is used to power our factories or the national grid and more than 11,000 tonnes of food across our UK factories is sent to feed animals every year.

For example, at our Burton factory we take brewer’s yeast, a by-product from beer production that would otherwise go to waste, to make Marmite. Waste generated from the Marmite manufacturing process goes into an on-site anaerobic digester which produces bio-gas used to fuel the boilers. These, in turn, produce steam to run the plant. This circular approach to waste provides 50% of the gas needed to power the factory.

Our Gloucester ice cream factory makes ice brands including Magnum, Cornetto and Solero. If any products do not meet our quality specifications, they are recovered and reworked into other products. If it’s not possible to rework the product, it is sent off-site for animal feed, including to some very lucky pigs!

The remainder of our food waste that cannot be redistributed to people, used to feed animals, or re-used to power our factories, is either used for industrial composting or for land application where it is used as fertiliser, or it goes to incineration with energy capture.

2. Helping professional kitchens to ‘Wise Up On Waste’

Image of chef in a kitchen cutting up vegetables

Waste in the food service industry, in venues such as restaurants, hotels and cafés, can be as high as 50%. But the huge food turnover in these professional kitchens means it is not always easy to see what is being wasted… or why.

Since 2011, Unilever Food Solutions in the UK & Ireland has been working with chefs to help them cut food waste in the foodservice and hospitality industry, helping them to understand the social, environmental, and economic importance of reducing waste in their kitchens.

As well as providing top tips to help chefs reduce kitchen waste, we’ve designed and developed our Wise Up On Waste tool with a simple mission: to help chefs measure how much food their kitchen is wasting. We believe that this is the simple but key starting point to making a change and reducing food waste.

The free web-based tool enables chefs to record and track their food waste, helping them identify problem areas and use this information to take action. On average, when the tool is used regularly, chefs and kitchens reduce food preparation and food plate waste by an average of 15 - 20%.

3. Creating a love for leftovers

Image showing the front cover of the Hellmanns Ultimate Leftover Hacks recipe book

We know that 16% of food UK households purchase goes to waste, with 38 million wheelie bins of food binned each year. That’s why as well as our commitment to reduce waste across our own operations, we know that helping shoppers to reduce the food waste at home is really important too.

Our Hellmann’s team believe that real food is too good to go to waste. By partnering with organisations such as WRAP for their Food Waste Action Week campaign and food waste app Olio, Hellmann’s is committed to raising awareness of the issues as well as giving people the knowledge and tools to reduce food waste in their homes.

For example, their ultimate leftover hacks are full of recipe inspirations to help households turn potentially wasted food into delicious meals. In December 2020, Hellmann’s partnered with FareShare and the Nintendo game Animal Crossing to create ‘Hellmann’s Island’. Helping to raise awareness of food waste in a virtual world, visitors to the island could donate spoiled turnips which equated to real meals donated to those most in need, with 50,000 meals donated in total, as well as receiving some festive food waste tips.