One third of all food produced in this world is lost or wasted. This amounts to the gigantic quantity of 1.3 billion tonnes while more than 800 million people go hungry every day.
Not everybody realises yet that food loss and waste is not only a humanitarian and economic crisis, it’s a huge environmental issue.
Food waste feeds climate change. Around 8–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from food waste. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.
Moreover, food waste consumes large quantities of precious natural resources – like agricultural land as large as China and freshwater three times the size of Lake Geneva.
In the face of such big numbers, it may be hard to imagine what we can do as individuals to make a positive impact on this issue.
Today, on International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we want to share the stories of six food waste warriors who work across our business. Through their ideas, skills and passion for action they are helping us cut food waste from farm to fork. We hope sharing their stories inspires you to make a difference too.
Taking action to cut waste from every part of our food chain
1: Ashish Gupta: Reducing tomato waste through farm integration
“My job which I am passionate about is the sourcing of agri-commodities, like tea, coffee, tomatoes, dairy and cereals. I look out for food waste and eliminate it,” says Ashish Gupta, Procurement Director, South Asia.
“In India, post-harvest losses of tomatoes are close to 15% – one of the highest percentages for any fresh crop in the country. To eliminate tomato waste in our value chain, we established an end-to-end model working closely with farmers.
“We set up tomato processing and ketchup manufacturing facilities in the tomato growing region of Maharashtra in partnership with a farmer co-operative called Sahyadri Farms (member of co-operative pictured above). We worked with them to develop the right hybrid seed varieties and establish regenerative agriculture practices. The farmers were guaranteed an off-take for their produce.
To date, we’ve reduced tomato wastage by more than 50%, increased farmers income to 1.5x and ensured a good local supply of the right quality of tomatoes for our ‘Kissan’ ketchup.”
2: Andy Cummings: Changing culture, cutting waste
Andy Cummings is the factory director of our ice cream site in Gloucester which makes the full Unilever ice cream range including Soleros, Viennettas and Magnums of all shapes and sizes. It has 13 production lines and makes roughly 500 tonnes of product a day.
“You can’t press a button and immediately make ice cream. It takes a while for freezers to reach the right temperature, so waste is inherent in the process of making ice cream. In 2020, Gloucester was the most wasteful factory in Europe. And that wasn’t because people were doing a bad job, or thought it was OK to throw food away. It was just accepted that making ice cream was wasteful,” explains Andy.
“So, we decided to drive a change in culture and mindset and that transformed not only our performance but also cut our waste. We put energy into training and maintenance. We digitised our performance data so we could pick up any issues in real time and ensure people could act on them a lot quicker.
“We also started to reward teams who had done something extraordinary each week. Each team had a silly name and people really bought into it, some names were a bit ‘cheeky’, but they raised a smile and made it fun, like working in an ice cream factory should be.
“One great example was from Danielle Proctor, one of our graduate process engineers who brought us an idea to optimise the process for adding juice to Soleros. This led to a 30% reduction on wasted juice while still delivering on the same great flavour.
“And we let people know where we stood on waste compared to other factories to add a competitive element. We set a target at the start of the year to remove €2.5 million of food waste from our production. We’re on track to deliver that. We’re not the least wasteful site yet, but we will be,” Andy says.
3: Camila Dinardi: Taking stock of shelf-life to reduce waste
Look in the cupboards of most households and chances are you’ll find a few products that are close to their use-by date. Stopping that wastage from happening on an industrial scale is the role of Strategic Planning Director for Foods & Refreshment in Latin America, Camila Dinardi.
“Two years ago, I was part of a team tasked with rethinking the way we were dealing with obsolete stock, to ensure that these products were sold before their expiry date and not wasted. Our call-to-action was simple: once our stock reaches 50% shelf-life, it should be sold out. We all embraced the cause that no good food should go to waste,” Camila says.
“We began by engaging partners in the retail space who were interested in buying and selling products that had an advanced shelf-life but were still good for consumption. We adopted differentiated pricing models, developed a stock ageing tool that alerts teams on shelf-life and identifies potential sales opportunities, and also ensures that short shelf-life stock has its own designated areas in our distribution centres. As for its impact, since the beginning of this journey, residuals stock in Brazil has dropped by 69%,” Camila adds.
4: Kevin Domburg: Ensuring every single product finds a customer
“My job is unique in Unilever,” says Kevin Domburg, Waste Project Manager for the Netherlands. “It’s the first role completely dedicated to avoiding food going to waste and to making sure that every single product we have, finds a customer before its sell-by date.
“The role can see me reaching out to regular retail partners to find space for goods in their promotional planning, working with discounters, trialling pilots with food apps and donating to food banks. It also means driving internal awareness of obsolete food waste across different teams and functions to ensure products are sold in time.
“Having a daily focus on all our products and building food waste prevention into our processes and decisions has meant we can identify future potential risks and take action earlier. It’s already led to a significant reduction in food waste.
“In the Netherlands, we have halved our product food waste in just over a year and in the space of two years, we have reduced write-offs by 40%. There is real potential for rolling out what we have learnt for further reduction of food waste across the business.
“I strongly believe that as long as people are going to bed hungry, we should be doing everything in our operations to let no good go to waste. At Unilever, our goal is to halve our food waste by 2025 but I have a more ambitious goal – zero food destruction and with the right tools in place, we can get to zero within our own chain,” adds Kevin.
5: Viken Baltayan: Helping hoteliers manage their food waste footprint
A breakfast buffet is one of the treats of a hotel stay, but research has shown that half the food on display is thrown away. Finding a way to put food waste on the agendas of hotel kitchens is a key part of Viken Baltayan’s role as Business Excellence & E-commerce Manager with Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) who looks after our relationships with the major Greek hotel chains.
Working with the WWF, UFS approached three Greek hotel groups, to pilot an online Hotel Kitchen Tool to help teams measure their food waste, identify areas of improvement, give advice and tips and take targeted actions with clear milestones to reduce waste.
“The results of the first round of pilot tests impressed both the UFS team and hotel staff,” says Viken. Total food waste was reduced by 10–25%, the amount of fruit and vegetables wasted was cut by 25%, kitchen prep of food saw waste reduced by 45% and buffet food waste was cut by 13–15%. The cost of food supplies fell by 9% too, a welcome saving for an industry recovering from the impact of Covid on the tourist trade.
“We gathered hotel executives and participating staff together at the end of the pilot at the UFS AIH Academy and their feedback was so positive. It was really encouraging to see how the programme and WWF Hotel Kitchen Tool has contributed towards driving the agenda in Greece forward, building understanding and knowledge of the food waste issue, and investment towards a more sustainable way of working,” Viken says.
6: Elham Noorbakhsh: Using brand purpose to drive personal change
“I wasn’t aware of the shocking fact that more than 60% of all food waste happens in consumer’s homes. I discovered that through the purpose of my brand and the work we’re doing to tackle this big global issue,” says Hellmann’s Global Brand Director, Elham Noorbakhsh.
“This year, we launched Hellmann’s global #MakeTasteNotWaste campaign and I’m proud that it has already inspired more than 100 million people to turn their leftover food into delicious meals and waste less.
“But our purpose journey doesn’t stop here! We want to make real impact by enabling people to reduce food waste in their homes. This is why Hellmann’s partnered with behavioural scientists to conduct one of the longest and largest consumer studies on household food waste and created a programme that’s helping people reduce their food waste by up to a third.
“Hellmann’s purpose has also impacted me personally. I knew I was throwing away bits and pieces of food including fruit, vegetables and other leftovers. But I didn’t know how that ‘a little food waste’ adds up to a huge amount after a week or a month.
“The pandemic was a turning point for me. I started to reappraise the true value of food and became more resourceful with every food item I had in my fridge and cupboard. We realised vegetables were the most wasted food in our home. So, we stopped buying them during the ‘bulk’ shopping and started to buy them only when we had a meal plan for them. If we knew our supper was fish and potatoes, we’d buy a veggie that would go with the recipe. This ensured every vegetable we bought was used and not wasted.
“Our other ‘golden’ rule was to use up dinner leftovers as lunch for the next day. This came with an increased consumption of Hellmann’s mayonnaise which I welcomed and enjoyed! I really feel that I’ve started to live the purpose of my brand. In my home, I try my best to ensure that where food is concerned, I MAKE TASTE, NOT WASTE!”