What is Surplus Food?

When you read the two words; Food Waste, what is the first image that lands in to your head?

Hold that thought.

Is it rotten tomatoes? Gone off Chicken that is stinking in your fridge? Festering fruit and vegetable peel in your bin? Or even the jar of pickles that has been sat at the back of the fridge for such a ridiculous amount of time that there may even be a new lifeform growing inside of it that you need to urgently inform Prof. Brian Cox about.

It is of course all those things, I know. This was my default assumption when I thought of food waste, or even surplus food.

However, this was before I started working in the Food & Drink industry, and saw first hand on a day to day basis exactly what surplus food does look like. An image that not many people get to see that don’t work in Food & Drink. An image that the general public never get to see.

If I was to describe the image of what surplus food looks like to me now, I wouldn’t turn my bin upside down in my kitchen, or empty the compost bin outside to show you. I would literally do this; walk into the nearest convenience store or supermarket, walk down the aisles, and point at the products on display for people to buy.

To me, the only difference between the products that we buy in supermarkets, and the edible surplus that is being thrown away every day, is that the stuff on the shelves has managed to make it to the finish line.

The difference between surplus products and these products is simply that they have ended up in the bin because they were trial products, or the retailer updated the branding meaning it can’t be used anymore, or, perhaps most controversially of all, it only has 60% of the initial life remaining which can still be a matter of months… yes MONTHS.

The truth about food waste and surplus food is hugely eye-opening.

There are of course much wider factors at play, many of which boil down to how greedy we really are in the West. We demand that our supermarket shelves are stocked 24/7 with endless variety. Why do we need 30 varieties of the same yoghurt? I read a fact recently that the total 1.3 billion tonnes of food that is disposed of every year across the world could feed 1 billion people. But that is for another day.

You may be thinking “of course, you would say that, you want manufacturers to sell their surplus to you”. Well, yes we do, but rather than being a sales pitch, this is simply raising awareness.

This is a wake-up call. This is the absolute truth about surplus food and food waste not only here in the UK, but across the World. I have seen countless manufacturers, some of the biggest in the country sitting back and doing nothing about the absolutely perfect product that is being sent to the bin every single day, amounting to hundreds of thousands of tonnes.

Of course, many manufacturers are working with some of the admirable surplus food re-distributors already out there who have been doing it for many years, as well other organisations such as WRAP. But the amount of work left to do in terms of action and awareness is stark.

The general consumer needs to know about what is going on. They need to stop assuming that surplus food either means that the product is out of date, or it is sat on an unloved area of the fridge in their local supermarket with a yellow CLEARANCE label attached.

Which leaves the question; what are you going to do about it? What is your action?

Mine was starting Food Circle Supermarket.

What’s yours?