Waitrose diverting surplus food to feed sector in new trial, Tesco championing waste to insect protein model

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Azovsky
© GettyImages/Azovsky

Related tags surplus food Waitrose Tesco Insect protein

Waitrose has started trials diverting surplus food to the animal feed sector; It says the exercise should prevent 70% of food going to waste. Leading UK retailer, Tesco, is researching the use of surplus food as feedstock for insect rearing.

Waitrose notes that between 2020 and 2022 surplus food increased by 33%, leading the supermarket chain to donate more food to charity.

In a new trial, 20 of the supermarket’s sites will segregate any surplus food, damaged, or not fit for human consumption, and allocate it for use in either animal or pet feed. UK surplus food processor, Resource, will then collect this food and convert into products for those sectors.

"Food will be segregated depending on its composition from bakery to fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, and dairy. Products that have passed their expiry date cannot be used."  

Surplus food containing animal by-products (APBs) - meat and fish - will be diverted to the pet food sector, said Waitrose. Anything not suitable to be turned into animal feed will go to anaerobic digestion to produce biofertilizer.

As part of the trial, all packaging from the food products will also be processed to remove microplastics.

For the duration of this initiative, charity and partner food donations will continue as normal, said the retailer.

Waitrose said the project is another step toward in it meeting its commitment of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030.

Ben Thomas, senior environment manager, Waitrose, told FeedNavigator: “In addition to addressing the root causes of waste in our shops, we are trialing the backhaul of surplus food that cannot be consumed by humans to animal feed where it will go back into the human food chain. If successful, we hope this will make a significant contribution towards our commitment to reducing food waste."

In the UK, over 650,000 tons of former foodstuffs are processed and/or handled or sent direct to farm each year to create livestock feed worth £110m (US$132m), as per UKFFPA data.

Surplus foodstuffs includes out of specification food, potato chips or breakfast cereals that are the wrong size or shape; leftover dough and liquid chocolate, or surplus bread collected from retailers and bakeries.

Insect protein

With food waste remaining a global issue – accounting for up to 10% of global greenhouse emissions and more than 2.5bn tons of food thrown away around the world every year – Tesco said it is working with Resource Insects to explore how insect farming could be a sustainable, scalable solution.

“In our new partnership, we're looking at how insect farming can be scaled in the UK. Our first priority remains to keep as much food as possible within the food chain, redistributing surplus food to charities and local communities; but in cases where food is no longer fit for human or direct animal consumption, converting food waste into alternative protein to replace or displace soy and fishmeal can help tackle some of the environmental issues associated with food and feed production,” commented Sarah Bradbury, group quality director, Tesco.

By diverting food waste to grow insect protein, the retailer has the opportunity to turn food no longer fit for human consumption into a much more environmentally friendly commodity, she added.

“Globally, the need for animal feed to meet the growing demand for animal products is increasing pressures on the natural world – including the impact on South American rainforests from soy production, to overfishing for fishmeal used in aquaculture. We believe that innovation and transformational change are needed to address the scale of these issues. Our new partnership with Resource Insects follows our initial research into insect farming back in 2021, where together with WWF, we looked at how this could be done at scale. We will continue to engage with government to remove any regulatory barriers that hinder such important food system innovations,” said Bradbury.

Tesco, she continued, is making great progress toward its ambition of halving food waste by 2025, which would be five years ahead of its original 2030 target. “Across our UK operations, we’ve reduced food waste by 45% since 2016/17.”

It has done so via avenues such as its ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range and ‘Reduced in Price, Just as Nice’ aisles in store and also through donations to community food banks or diverting surplus food to feed.

Beetroot peelings to feed

In further innovation linked to its ambition to reduce food waste, Tesco announced last last year that suppliers, by using a new online marketplace, Tesco Exchange, can cut production costs and reduce waste by selling or donating surplus stock or products to other suppliers who can make use of them.

Through this platform, suppliers who have too much of a product - crops, by-products, ingredients or packaging - can be matched with other Tesco suppliers that need it. One of the first listings was made by food manufacturer, G’s Group, which supplies pickled beetroot to Tesco. The manufacturing process leaves them with tons of beetroot peelings that could be used by a livestock farm as cattle feed.

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