UK supermarket Tesco this week revealed wastage rates for some of its 25 top-selling lines. The headline grabber is the admission that 68% of all pre-packed salads go to waste, of which 35% are lost in the home. This means that less than a third of the bagged salads which arrive instore are bought and eaten while nearly half of what reaches Tesco (44.2%) goes to waste.
However the situation arose, Tesco’s bottom line has never been in danger. The retailer’s solutions to waste reduction are technical ones with opportunities to externalise the costs to suppliers.
Take the 40% of Tesco apples that are wasted: one in four (10% of the total) are wasted by consumers at home. Tesco is talking to growers about ways to reduce pests and disease, knowing full well that the growers will do anything to keep the business. The multiple is also asking grape growers to trial varieties which have a longer shelf life: it is also planning to shorten the journey time from field to shelf. Again, the growers are likely to absorb as much of the cost incurred as possible, simply to avoid losing the business.
The power of supermarket buyers over their suppliers is legendary (not just in the UK, either) and there is no shortage of anecdotes. Yet there are no clear accusations of sharp practice, either, for fear of reprisals. The UK Food Group mailing list has a thread on this subject at present. It includes an anecdotal account of a farmer who ended up ploughing in 60 acres of cauliflowers that were too big for the retail specification after a good growing season. That is the best part of a quarter of a million cauliflowers that were blocked from sale anywhere else, destroyed by the very person who spent months growing the crop, working in isolation and too frightened to challenge retailer bullying.