The benefits of reducing food waste

Since launch three years ago, Winnow has been deployed in over 200 kitchens and has saved its customers over £2.5m by reducing food waste. Founder Marc Zornes gives his perspective on the issue

Food waste in the hospitality sector is a long-standing problem, but there are significant economic and environmental opportunities for those addressing the issue. Forward thinking companies are creating competitive advantage by putting avoidable food waste prevention on their agenda. AccorHotels – Europe’s biggest hotel chain – recently announced that by 2020 it would reduce food waste by 30%. The move is ground- breaking and signals a step change in the way senior executives are approaching the issue, making it central to their overall strategy rather than simply the remit of the CSR team.

Food waste is a serious problem globally. Around the world, about one-third of all food that’s produced is either lost or wasted every year. This amounts to roughly 1.3 billion tons of food and costs the global hospitality sector over $100bn. Actors of the industry implementing food waste targets are getting ahead of the curve by making their operations more sustainable and significantly more profitable.

At Winnow we believe that food is too valuable to be wasted, and that technology can transform the way we prepare it. Since our launch in May 2013, we have been working in ten countries with clients such as Compass Group, AccorHotels and River Cottage Canteens. Companies that see the potential gains of food waste reduction will not only address a major environmental issue but also make significant cost savings. We’ve found our clients have driven significant uplift in their gross margins by reducing food costs, i.e. throwing less food away. In aggregate, our clients are saving millions in costs – all of which is falling right to the bottom line.

Beyond these food cost savings, the kitchens are more labour efficient, sending less waste to landfill and building stronger relationships with their clients. The system connects commercial kitchens to the cloud, allowing them to record and analyse exactly what is put in the bin. This gives chefs the information they need to improve their production processes to cut food waste in half, saving money and reducing their environmental footprint at the same time.

It’s not just foodservice that has the responsibility – Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall’s BBC series War on Waste highlighted the issue across the supermarket and hospitality sectors, and more than 300,000 people signed his petition calling on supermarkets to do more to reduce waste.

Companies are not ignoring the call to action and many of them are setting targets to reduce food waste. Sainsbury’s has committed £10 million over the next five years to tackle household food waste with the launch of its ‘Waste less, Save more’ initiative. The five-year plan begins with a year-long £1 million investment in South Derbyshire to test some of the most innovative ideas and technology to reduce waste in the town.

In the past three years we have been working with hundreds of kitchens and we found that a common theme is they simply don’t know how much is being wasted. Large kitchens can waste up to 20% of the food they buy. The reason for this is that they  lack the correct tools to measure what is thrown into the bin. Measuring food waste by volume is not enough. You need to understand the true costs of what you are wasting and monitor it in an ongoing way to drive sustained change.

At Winnow we believe that what gets measured gets managed. Once you know exactly where waste is occurring, improved forecasting and production planning allows you to solve the issue at its root cause. Our work with AccorHotels and Compass Group –          to name two example clients – has shown that sites which take action to measure and monitor waste can cut food waste by 50% or more by value.

The initiatives above are leading examples on how companies should address this huge challenge. Governments and industry bodies have been the first to set targets. We are seeing it happening in Scotland, France and Italy where legislation is already in place aimed at tackling food waste. But we believe that there is a huge role – and opportunity – for businesses to play in solving the issue and they need to take leadership in this.

There’s little reason for companies not to act. There’s clearly a strong business case for making this a priority as measuring and monitoring food waste can deliver significant cost savings.

The industry has a real chance to act and benefit both the environment and business. We are building a coalition of companies making public commitments to measure and strategically reduce food waste. We would challenge large and small hospitality and foodservice operators to come on board and prioritise food waste reduction for the clear economic, as well as moral, reasons.

“Around the world, about one-third of all food that’s produced is either lost or wasted every year.

This amounts to roughly 1.3 billion tons of food and costs the global hospitality sector over $100bn”