Minimising loss and waste in the food industry is an increasingly popular strategy. It helps to reduce company costs at a time when sustainability is no longer a luxury and has become a necessity, while growing consumer awareness about the need to care for the environment makes this type of good practice in food production and distribution more necessary than ever.

Minimising waste not only has a part to play in a company’s production and distribution chains, help is also needed at points of sale and homes to ensure that waste is reduced to a minimum.

Loss of foodstuffs refers to what happens throughout the food supply chain from the farm up to, but not including, the retail outlets.

Waste of foodstuffs takes place during retail sales and consumption, when products are thrown away without being consumed.

Another factor is the rubbish generated by food products, consisting mainly of packaging, which is another problem for sustainability in the sector.

Food waste: the figures

It is important to gauge the impact of loss and waste because the figures are appalling. One third of the foodstuffs produced worldwide are lost, and up to 83% of the food wasted in Europe is still safe for consumption (FUSIONS, 2016).

It needs to be remembered that production, transformation, transport and consumption of foodstuffs require the use of natural resources: water, energy, materials, etc. It also creates other residues and emissions. Such processes make for between 25% and 30% of the total greenhouse gas emissions that have led to the current climate crisis.

So, when we waste food, we are not only wasting consumer goods (which are a basic necessity), we are also wasting soil, water, energy and other scarce resources used to produce, transport and refrigerate it.

Faced with such a panorama, we need to identify aspects that encourage waste and loss of foodstuffs and then find formulas to reduce waste that can often be reused in other links on the food chain.

Reducing food waste during production

Food waste generated throughout the food chain is a problem; partly because managing it can be costly and because it wastes elements that can be useful to the food industry and to others. There is a long list of items that fit in here, but some notable examples include:

Finding a use for such by-products that can ideally form part of a circular economy is the driving force behind many projects. A notable example is making feed with coffee grounds from the HORECA sector as the main ingredient.

Another increasingly popular option is that of upcycling, the reuse of discarded materials that increases their value. It also often refers to the process whereby unused materials move up the hierarchy of the value chain and so return to the system. The use of upcycled ingredients in developing new food products not only benefits the sustainability of the planet by contributing to the circular economy, it also reduces dependence on third parties for acquiring certain ingredients. Developing lines such as these can also often help to enrich products nutritionally by providing them with functional properties.

Some examples:

Ayudando a la reducción de residuos

En este punto, los sistemas de envasado son muy importantes. En general, se está haciendo una gran apuesta por las soluciones compostables como las que ofrece TIPA.

Otra de las startups que lidera el sector, NOTPLA, está desarrollando, partiendo de algas, envases enfocados el sector para llevar, donde han colaborado con Heinz haciendo sobres monodosis que se pueden procesar con los restos orgánicos. Y todo empezó con unas cápsulas de agua cuya cobertura era comestible.

En España, el caso de los aperitivos de patatas fritas “Marinas” del Grupo Apex, que han hecho del diseño (y composición) de sus bolsas compostables un gran reclamo siendo la punta de lanza de una tendencia que se va consolidando.

Los envases se tienen que adaptar a la demanda de la sociedad de productos más respetuosos con el medio ambiente y quienes vayan tomando ese camino afianzarán su reputación en ese ámbito dotando a sus productos de valor añadido.

Helping to reduce waste

Packaging systems are very important. Major efforts are being made to find compostable solutions such as the one offered by TIPA.

Another leading start-up in the sector, NOTPLA, is developing algae-based packaging for the take-away sector, and has collaborated with Heinz to make single-dose packs that can be processed with organic refuse. It all started with water capsules contained in comestible packets.

In Spain, the example set by the “Marinas” potato crisps made by the Apex Group, who have made a compostable design (and composition) of their bags, is a great step forward in a steadily growing trend.

Packaging needs to adapt to social demands for more environmentally friendly products, and companies that take this approach will consolidate their reputation if they provide their products with this type of added value.

At the point of sale and in the home

One of the main causes of food waste are confusing and over cautious sell-by dates. The dates are used to protect consumers, but they also lead to food in good condition being thrown away.

There are now much more precise technologies available to establish the right sell-by dates and prolong the useful life of food, which makes it necessary to start promoting more efficient alternatives.

It goes without saying that ensuring consumers’ health and safety is essential, but now there are systems that give a scientifically precise indication of the condition of food, making confusing (and sometimes imprecise) date marking systems unnecessary.

Mimica is a company that has developed a simple label called Mimica Touch, that is rough to the touch when a food product should no longer be consumed, produced by the real temperature scenarios that the product undergoes in its “journey” from the supermarket to the fridge and up to when it is consumed. The label also offers the security that the food to be consumed has been correctly stored and is safe to eat. The label is temperature sensitive and so shows when the product is fresher for longer, thus ensuring that is effectively conserved.

The system is based on a gel that imitates the status of the deterioration profiles of food and drink, calibrated to coincide with the temperature sensitivity of foodstuffs such as juice, beef and milk.

The company has commented that in many cases the useful life of perishable foodstuffs such as meat and dairy products can be increased by at least 2 days, thus reducing domestic food waste by up to 63%.

It is also important to transmit the idea that reducing food waste and loss benefits the environment as much as it does the bank balance. In this regard, dynamic prices can reduce rates of loss and increase brand sustainability. Wasteless  has created a business case to include data in the supply chain. Optimising offers enables fresh foodstuffs with a shorter useful life to be sold at the right time and at a better price.

Applications are also starting to appear where companies with food surpluses that would otherwise be thrown away are not put on sale in packs that consumers can buy at one third of their normal price. By doing so companies can still obtain some degree of profit from the surplus and consumers can buy food at a good price. The main companies involved in this new way of doing business in Spain are To Good To Go and Encantado de comerte.