Innovators offer solutions to global food waste conundrum

UK businesses of all sizes are harnessing the power of technology to inform decisions and offer services that tackle the global issue of food and drink waste.

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Speaking at an event hosted by Cloud Sustainability last week, data scientists and business leaders offered several solutions to the issue, ranging from sophisticated algorithms to innovative applications.

For example, Takestock CEO, Campbell Murray, explained how approximately £1bn worth of food is sent to landfill within the food industry manufacturing stages in the UK every year – more than 600,000 tonnes.

In response, his business was developed as an online trading platform, allowing owners of stock to sell their unwanted items and find a buyer efficiently, rather than turning to scrap as an option.

The “eBay for the food industry” platform now has 1,400 customers and international ambitions, with Murray saying: “Nobody wants food waste because it is money down the drain.”

Similarly, food and drink supplier Gousto has developed a business model that incorporates technology to minimise waste for buyers while also improving efficiency.

Data scientist, Irene Irarte-Carretero, explained how the company uses a forecasting algorithm to determine the seasonality and popularity of recipes, before selecting ingredients for delivery.

The forecasting error rate has fallen to just a few percent recently, with accurate predictions allowing for smaller quantities of food to be used, flexible arrangements and good relations with suppliers.

Sainsbury’s are also using the power of technology to help improve waste management by better understanding supply and demand through more accurate forecasts.

Director of brand, Judith Batchelar, said data and analytics were helping to inform decision-making at the supermarket giant by driving “competitive advantage through value, efficiency and quality improvements”.

The event highlighted research revealing how food waste equivalent to an area the size of China is wasted annually around the world, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions greater than those emitted from the whole of India.

Despite the progress that has been made using technology to tackle this, and the commercial opportunities for businesses, Murray warned that there is still a long way to go to solving the problem.

“The food industry is naturally quite a structured industry, and it takes a long time for things to change,” he said. “It is very systemic and a lot of businesses have very tight margins, but more and more are getting on board.”

 

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