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Society wastes an unsustainable one third of the food produced globally; that's some 1.3 billion tonnes per year, accounting for 8% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Losses are valued at US$1 trillion a year, and are estimated to hit US$1.5 trillion by 2030.*

Such massive waste is simply unsustainable in a world far off course from the two-degree Celcius climate change limit and one where an expanding population is putting ever-increasing pressure on resources. Food waste is a greatly overlooked driver of climate change. One of the UN’s sustainable development goals is to halve food waste by 2030, but without decisive action, the world risks failing to meet this target. Our Research analysts propose that the time is ripe to execute change through innovation and collaborative action across the food value chain.

*Source: BCG 2018

The commodity groups with the highest proportion of waste

Source: FAO 2011

Companies are starting to see food waste as an opportunity rather than simply a by-product of doing business, and this is particularly true in the developed world, where most waste occurs at the consumption stage. Our analysts question the current dynamics of the food value chain and see the need for collaboration across key stakeholders, with a clear role for innovation to accelerate change.

Waste occurs all along the food value chain

The waste divide

In developing economies, food waste occurs in the earlier stages of the value chain due to inadequate storage facilities and infrastructure, whereas in developed economies, roughly half of waste occurs at the consumption stage, with significant drivers including restrictive appearance standards and over-reliance on expiry dates. Most strikingly, this consumer-generated waste is approximately ten times that seen in developing economies.

Food waste per person per year

Source: FAO 2011

Emerging innovation can help accelerate change

There are many factors behind the problem of food waste and therefore more than one solution is required. Innovations by start-ups and established players can help improve awareness around the issue as well as provide solutions to reduce food waste along the food value chain:

Production Developments in Agricultural technology (AgTech) such as the soil analysis and data techniques used by Farmers Edge, to help farmers increase yield and see threats long before they are visible in the field.
Handling & Storage Improvements in storage management, such as BT9’s disposable data tags can allow producers to monitor the state of produce in real time and reduce wastage, and organisations like Food Cowboy facilitate re-distribution of excess produce to local charitable destinations before it perishes.
Processing & Packaging Inspired innovations from firms like Apeel Sciences, which is developing edible coatings, are extending the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. Others, like Memphis Meats, are developing lab-grown cultured meats with less waste in production, while micro-breweries and distilleries like Foxhole Spirits and Toast Ale are turning unused resources into craft spirits and other alcoholic beverages.
Distribution & Market Advancements in stock management techniques are helping retailers mitigate unsold food and recover value. Flashfood allows retailers to market produce nearing its best-before date for customers to collect in store, whereas ethical retailers like HISBE are dedicated to helping local suppliers reach the high street.
Consumption Meal Planning apps like Innit are helping consumers better manage their shopping and cooking, and waste management technology firm Winnow is using AI to weigh and log waste, helping restaurants reduce waste from the kitchen and plate.

There are many innovations being implemented in the value chain already, with others looking to enter the market soon. For these to flourish and help the world reach ambitious food waste targets, our analysts believe that a collaborative approach is necessary, with specific calls to action from key stakeholders: governments, consumers and industry. Society’s current food system is synonymous with waste, but growing awareness has the long-run potential to redefine the balance of power across the food value chain and promote the shift to a leaner society.

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About the analysts

Emily Morrison is a member of the Sustainable & Thematic Investing team within Equity Research at Barclays. Emily joined the team in June 2018 following two years covering the European Food Retail space and one year covering the European Telecoms sector. Emily graduated with a degree in Economics from Cambridge University.

Hiral Patel is the Head of Sustainable & Thematic Investing, Equity Research. Hiral joined the team in June 2018 following five years covering the European Technology, Payments and FinTech sector. Prior to that, Hiral qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG where she worked in Audit covering Financial Services. Hiral graduated from the University of Warwick with a degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies.

Anushka Challawala is a member of the Sustainable & Thematic Investing team, Equity Research. Anushka joined the team in September 2018 following two years covering European Telecoms. Anushka graduated with a BSc in Management from the University of Warwick.

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