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Tackling food waste in the supply chain



Tackling food waste in the supply chain

Food waste occurs at every stage of the supply chain. It includes food that is unused, discarded, spoiled, expired or uneaten. The causes are many: poor planning, cold chain inefficiencies, unsuitable packaging and transport delays. Beyond direct food waste, there are extra costs incurred in its production: water, energy, and space that’s been used to grow, produce, and transport it.

Not only that, but food waste has also become a sustainability issue. The ethical, environmental, and social impact of food waste is a concern to all the players in the supply chain from the farm to manufacturer and to the consumer. Food waste has a significant impact on a company’s profitability.

food waste in supply chain

Where is food waste occurring?

Just over half of UK food waste comes from households, while the rest comes from the hospitality and food service sectors. This sector includes agricultural producers, manufacturers, retailers, and other food-related businesses such as restaurants and caterers who waste approximately 2.9 million tonnes of food annually. 

The retail sector is responsible for 800,000 of that 2.9m tonnes. Deterioration occurs through improper handling during transport or storage, spillage, lack of expiry date monitoring, or cooling failures. Manufacturers also produce waste in many ways: extra ingredients left over at the end of production runs, overproduction of slow-moving items, product labelling errors, and poor inventory management.

Managing food waste

Controlling food waste starts with monitoring each process in the supply chain and identifying where the loss is happening. This can be done by conducting an audit that measures and tracks the amount of food waste and in which place it is occurring. From there, inventory management can be improved, and distribution and transport solutions developed, with the help of automation tools.

Advances in refrigeration technology are providing answers. Intelligent containers with individual controls can ensure that each type of perishable food is kept at the optimum temperature. Bananas continue to respire after harvesting, i.e., they produce large amounts of heat. Ideally, green bananas need to be kept and transported at a temperature of 13,3 degrees C in 85% – 95% humidity. Too high or too low will spoil them. Technologies such as biosensors, time temperature controls and gas indicators are used to monitor ideal conditions.

8 ways to reduce food waste in the supply chain


Streamline forecasting and planning to ensure that the right quantity of product is manufactured or distributed. Analysis of sales trends and seasonal requirements will inform you of the expected demand. The more precise the forecast, the lower the risk of overstocking.


Establish standardised processes to increase efficiency. Optimise storage conditions to ensure optimal freshness and minimise product losses. Manage stock rotation using a “first in, first out” (FIFO) inventory system to ensure freshness and reduce food waste. Set expiration date alerts. Implement an inventory management system (IMS) to track stock levels in real-time.


Increase visibility. The latest warehouse management systems (WMS) provide robust, high-quality data, including inventory management tools such as RFID sensors. Analyse the data to identify potential opportunities for waste reduction. Understanding your food inventory in detail with its specific needs will help reduce food shrinkage and waste.


Encourage collaboration with suppliers to reduce food waste in the supply chain. A WMS provides collaboration opportunities to reduce lead times between warehouses, distributors, retailers, and hospitality venues. Food can get from farm to fork much more quickly. Find out more about WMS here.


Redesign packaging to better suit the products being stored or transported. For example, in-store wastage of new potatoes can be reduced greatly by using bags especially designed for this purpose. Grapes in trays or special bags last longer than those in plastic containers.


Redistribute and repurpose surplus food in good condition. Redistribution covers a range of channels including commercial outlets, charities, and community groups. Surplus items can include part-packed and fully-packed finished products, work-in-progress materials, and food ingredients. According to the Institute of Grocery Distributors, IGD, the cost of waste disposal is avoided, there may be some financial return and it is better for the environment.


Educate stakeholders on the benefits of reducing food waste in the supply chain. Train everyone on the importance of inventory management and proper storage of food products. This includes suppliers, transporters, retail staff and end users.


Temperature causes a notable difference in the quality and shelf life of products, so it needs to be constantly monitored. The mismatch of lead times and shelf life leads to waste. Products with shorter shelf life can be distributed to higher turnover outlets. Consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality foods that have a good shelf life after purchase.

SCCG distributes, implements, and supports a range of business software and supply chain applications for distribution, manufacturing, and e-commerce companies, combining both technological and logistics expertise in the food distribution industry sector.

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