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Waste in food production is not a new problem. In 2017, the Australian government measured the national baseline in food waste and found the manufacturing sector contributed 25% of the country’s waste across the supply and consumption chain. 

In a country like Australia, food insecurity may seem an unlikely concern. However, with increasing demand for locally sourced foods, pressures on primary production from a changing climate, and an increasing disparity between social groups that makes access to fresh and healthy food much harder for some, true food security seems more challenging, not less. And, with food waste responsible for contributing to climate change by releasing methane as it breaks down in landfills, it can feel like an inescapable cycle.

The good news is technological improvements have made it much easier for even the smallest and most modest of food producers to move the needle on waste in a meaningful way. Of course, reducing waste in food manufacture is not only good for the planet and for our population. The benefits are two-fold. A reduction in waste is an increase in profits to the manufacturer—through lower operating costs, and through the sale of food waste repurposed as a whole new product.

How you can reduce food waste

Expose the data in your business to optimise your portfolio

In the race to meet growth targets and variable consumer demands, it’s too easy to end up with complex product portfolios of different weights, sizes and flavour profiles. Even more so in production line changeovers, where allergen-free varieties are part of the product mix, and in products with high ingredient counts. If you don’t regularly review production data in view of your sales outcomes, you’ll inevitably divert dollars off the line and into the waste bucket. Analyse what your data is telling you and consider eliminating those underperforming SKUs from your portfolio.

Review your supply chain to uncover inefficiencies

The greater the distance required for ingredients to travel, the greater the opportunity for spoilage. By working with primary producers in your region you can increase the supply of locally sourced ingredients. Consider collaborating with other companies across your supply chain to develop more accurate procurement and transport forecasts. Acting as a cohort can provide negotiating power to reduce the time in getting food onto shelves.

Influence consumer behaviour to minimise household waste

Australians throw out 1 in 5 shopping bags worth of food. Engage with consumers through clever marketing campaigns to reduce waste created from unnecessary bulk purchases, such as Tesco’s Buy One Get One Free-Later program; and update packaging to extend freshness.

Think outside the box to recover value from the factory floor

Australian consumers have welcomed the availability of previously-rejected fruit and vegetables thanks to the major supermarkets packaging not-quite-perfect produce and offering it at a lower price point, as we’ve seen with Woolworth’s Odd Bunch. There are lots of ways to put food waste back into the supply chain, though. Here are just a few examples to show you that food waste doesn’t need to end up in landfill or as stock feed.

Making biscuits from orange juice processing waste

Circular economy: Upcycling orange juice byproduct to cut food waste and boost fibre intake

Gluten-free banana flour made from disposed Lady Fingers

Making vodka from waste potato peelings and pulp

Whisky and vodka flow as Tasmanian farmers embrace spirit of sustainability

New Zealand company turns apple waste into flour

Aussie plans to turn potatoes into prebiotics, low-GI ingredients and vodka

First things first

It’s hard to get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going, so set a clear and achievable target to reduce or eliminate waste in your production line and product portfolio. When you develop recipes and modify food formulations, approach your manufacturing process as a closed loop—look at ways you can turn waste ingredients into new products, without reducing food quality or introducing allergens.

Food loss and waste reduction efforts can certainly provide new revenue by inspiring the development of new products, but these efforts do much more besides. You’ll be adding to food security for a growing population; reducing the sector’s contribution to greenhouse gases; and cementing your organisation as an employer-of-choice, serving a mission that will attract the next generation of innovators.