Research Insight – Business strategies to mitigate food waste

Recent graduate Rocha Liliana shares the findings of her Master’s thesis which provided a comparative analysis of policies, strategies and different approaches between businesses and organisations working to mitigate food waste from supermarkets.

Her master’s thesis investigated how food waste occurs within the different stages of the supply chain showing that waste is generated in every stage and that supermarkets waste at least 115000 tonnes every year which is equivalent to £0.65 billion in the UK. Food waste occurs due to food loss, lack of education and awareness. The economic and environmental consequences have shown to require immediate action. The environmental impacts varied from gas emissions, unnecessary use of natural resources but also from destroying biodiversity in order to produce food. Regarding the methodology, the researcher chose an interpretivist philosophy and inductive approach using qualitative case studies alongside secondary data.

The discussions and findings section implemented the concept of CSR together with the stakeholder and legitimacy theory which were applied to Tesco and WRAP demonstrating that the strategies that supermarkets develop are mainly based on stakeholder pressure, societal views and media publicity. WRAP played a major role by working together with the government but also by helping businesses and supermarkets like Tesco by giving advice to achieve food waste reduction. The four obligations of CSR were also examined. The ethical responsibility demonstrated to be of major importance, this was identified to be included in Tesco’s and WRAP’s practices. The strategies had a direct link with positive ethical actions and representation of CSR. The legal responsibility looked at how Tesco obeys current laws which regulate the retail industry. However, after examining how laws in France had a positive impact on this field, it was identified that Tesco goes beyond its legal responsibilities and combines their strategies with ethical responsibilities.

The food waste pyramid has shown to suit the concept of CSR. The different stages such as prevention which included redistribution to people were identified as ethical but also as philanthropic responsibilities. Tesco was shown to cover these responsibilities. The remaining stages (animal feed, recycling and recovery) were analysed and were shown to contribute towards ethical responsibility.

The summary above provides some interesting insights into the interplay between the food waste problem in the food business world and how CSR is constructed and put into practice. WRAP are a key player in how such retailers develop such CSR actions and continue to work towards food waste reduction targets. The thesis poses questions around the extent to which businesses go beyond the standards set of in law and the influence of advisory organisations. Furthermore with the upcoming ‘brexit’ it will be interesting to see how food waste legislation originating from EU directives, such as the implementation of the food waste hierarchy, will be re-negotiated into UK law.