In May 2019, key players in the food industry, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, pledged to take ground-breaking action to drive down food waste as part of the government’s ‘Step up to the Plate’ initiative

Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, was one of those who signed the pledge at the flagship symposium in London. He explains why drastic action is needed, and the significant role frozen food has to play in both waste reduction and climate change.

“Every year, millions of tonnes of edible, nutritious food is thrown away. It’s an epidemic described by Michael Gove at the ‘Step up to the Plate’ event as a ‘moral, economic and environmental scandal’ and the scale of food waste, as well as its long-term environmental effects, certainly cannot be underestimated.

“Food waste in the UK totals 10.2 million tonnes per year, of which 1.8 million tonnes comes from food manufacture, one million from the hospitality sector, and 260,000 from retail, with the remainder from households.

“When 8.4 million people in the UK are classed as ‘food insecure’ and 5.6 per cent of those aged over 15 say it is a struggle to get enough food, the volumes of wasted food are indeed scandalous. But this is not a problem that only affects those struggling financially. When food ends up in landfill, rots and produces methane, it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, elevating the issue of food waste to a potentially catastrophic problem that will ultimately affect us all.

“Step up to the Plate was co-hosted by the government’s first food surplus and waste champion, Ben Elliot, who urged attendees to ‘make a number of commitments to measure and reduce their own food waste while inspiring others to do the same’.

“Commitments include halving food waste by 2030 in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, empowering and encouraging people to reduce food waste, and to change individual habits to minimise household waste. This can be achieved by buying only what we need and eating all of what we buy.

“This last point was underpinned by a key message at Step up to the Plate; that 70 per cent of food waste happens in consumers’ homes.

“This is just one of the areas where frozen can play a vital role in cutting food waste. Although the event featured lots of discussion about food waste and redistribution – as well as a speech by Dr Emily Shuckburgh highlighting how the eradication of food waste will have a massive impact on controlling climate change – there was hardly anything around the wider use of frozen food.”

“Buying frozen food is an easy way for consumers to use only what they need. Simply take out the amount required for your meal and put the rest back in the freezer for another day. It keeps longer than refrigerated food because the freezing process suspends the enzyme activity that causes food to rot. All this adds up to less food waste ending up in landfill.

“However, it’s not just at household level that frozen can reduce food waste. In 2015 we worked with Cranfield University to produce the ‘Frozen Food and Food Security in the UK Report’. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), consumer cost and waste production were calculated for four common shopping list items – cod, carrots, broccoli and potatoes. Typical fresh and frozen supply chains throughout the year were then compared.

“The study found that increasing the amount of food that is frozen could significantly reduce edible food waste in the supply chain, minimising the impact of that food waste. In addition, it calculated a potential waste saving of up to 79 per cent if the entire supply chain for these four products was shifted to frozen.

“The researchers found that any waste that was produced in frozen production occurred higher in the supply chain where it has less impact due to reuse and recycling options compared to fresh products wasted in the home, which often ends up in landfill.

“Aside from waste reduction, frozen boasts a range of additional benefits in terms of locking in nutrients. Produce is picked at its peak and flash frozen to maintain flavour and, crucially, vitamins and minerals. As we look to a future where everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food, this facet of frozen will become increasingly important.

“Initiatives such as Step up to the Plate are to be applauded, and in line with the pledge, BFFF will work towards helping members to achieve a halving of food waste by 2030. However, the Government 11should do more to recognise and promote the benefits of frozen food in cutting waste to consumers.

“It is important to remember that wasting food also means wasting the energy and resources that are used to produce, transport and package it.

“Frozen food has traditionally been associated with families looking for convenience and good value, however, it is now reaching a much wider demographic through premiumisation. As shoppers continue to become more aware of the quality, variety and versatility of products, and look to reduce waste, they should be encouraged to use the freezer more and more regularly.

“This renaissance is certainly reflected in the figures. The latest statistics, provided by Kantar Worldpanel, value the retail frozen food market as a whole at over £6.3bn having seen impressive 2.5 per cent value growth year-on-year (yoy). Since hitting the £6bn value mark in October 2017, the market continued to see consistent growth in both value and volume in each quarter.

“This growth is good news, both for the consumer and the planet, as it can only help us on our way to making food waste a thing of the past.”

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Richard Harrow is chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) the leading Trade Association for the frozen food sector. Its mission is to promote and protect the interests of the frozen food industry. Members cover the whole of the entire cold chain including large companies to SMEs.
The Federation works to increase its influence with Government and develop alliances with outside agencies affecting the success of frozen foods. It also runs a number of projects to address special issues; Elected Committees look both at industry and sector-specific issues, whilst Working Groups of selected specialists tackle areas such as the retail and foodservice supply chain and school meals.