Surplus food & drink explained
Since we founded Food Circle Supermarket at the start of this year, we have written a number of guest articles and blog publications about the environmental and economic ethos of our business, but we realised that, other than in our FAQs, we could be sharing more of this insight with the people that shop with us and browse the site on a regular basis.
We shout about it as much as possible because it’s an important part of our business. We couldn’t source our supply without telling our shoppers as much as possible about surplus food and our ethos, but I’d like to bring it to life a bit more in this post.
Because the food and drink retail industry is so fast-paced, unpredictable, and ever-changing, it’s an unfortunate inevitability that not all food that is manufactured makes it to the supermarket shelves.
This doesn’t mean the manufacturer is doing its job badly or running its business inefficiently – in fact, quite the opposite – the vast majority of food that is produced does make the supermarket shelves to be enjoyed in all four corners of the country.
However, as with any business endeavour, there is always that margin of error. Things don’t always go to plan and perfectly good products can end up at risk of being thrown on the waste pile.
Over 1.7 million tonnes of food is wasted in UK food manufacturing every year. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of this is still perfectly edible. These may sound like big numbers, and they are! But it is important to remember they are only a very small proportion of all food that is manufactured up and down the country every year. Even so, we would rather that be zero tonnes wasted, so we set up Food Circle with the aim of doing something about it!
Food and drink manufacturers do their very best to plan and forecast as accurately as possible, but ultimately the decision over how much of that product is actually needed is made by the retailer, and can fluctuate based on sales performance, and even more unpredictable factors such as the weather.
Manufacturers don’t always know what the order is going to be until they’ve produced the stock, so often have to gamble on producing slightly more than they need, as they cannot contemplate falling short of the order.
This can leave them with a small excess which can build up over time. Retailers generally require a minimum number of weeks or months’ shelf life on a product, so these small accumulations of excess can sit there until they fall below the minimum shelf life required by a retailer, even though that minimum can be a number of months rather than a number of days.
Retailers can also “de-list” products that no longer fit within their range. If they decide to do that after some of the stock has already been produced, the manufacturer often has to find a home for it to avert the possibility of wastage.
Manufacturers can also discontinue their own stock if a particular product isn’t working for them – we have a perfect example of that with our range of Pukka Herbs teas that were deemed to no longer fit with the sourcing ethos of the rest of the Pukka range. We are selling some of the remaining stock through Food Circle Supermarket now it has stopped being made.
The size of the “problem” depends largely on the manufacturer, the type of product they produce, and how their range is performing in mainstream supermarkets. Generally, surplus stock is a small amount of a manufacturer’s total production every year, but add that up across every food manufacturer in the country and you have vast quantities of food and drink at risk of being thrown away or incinerated.
For foodies like us, that seems like a crying shame when there are lots of people out there who could be enjoying those products.
The culmination of all this is the food redistribution sector, of which we are just one organisation. My co-founder Paul, and I, have worked in this sector for a number of years, and decided that we could combine our knowledge of surplus food with our passion for living a healthy lifestyle, and so Food Circle was born!
We are passionate about ensuring food waste reaches people. To the immense credit of our manufacturing industry, a smaller and smaller proportion of food waste is sent to landfill, but we believe that feeding people is still the best option over and above animal feed, anaerobic digestion (turning food waste into gas for energy), and of course all of the above are a better option to landfill environmentally, commercially and economically.
So when you next find yourself browsing our range and wondering why you are able to access such great savings on amazing healthy food brands such as Fulfil, Pulsin, Nakd & Trek, remember that not only are you getting a great deal for yourself. We hope you would agree with us that the environment is getting a much better deal as well. All of our products were manufactured with the intention of them being eaten, so let’s work together to keep it that way.
Thank you for reading!