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Food Waste: Enough to Feed 2 Billion Every Day, in conversation with Juan Aguiriano of Kerry Group

November 17, 2021
Borderless Leadership - article

Click play for the full discussion with Juan Aguiriano

Andrew Kris 

Today for our second session in this series, we have Juan Aguiriano of Kerry Group. Juan is going to be telling us about a subject that is close to his heart, and ours. And that is the subject of food waste.

Juan, my understanding is that there’s enough food waste daily to feed about 2 billion more people, is that an accurate assessment?

Juan Aguiriano 

Yes, Andrew. That’s correct. As a society, if we could reverse the trend and totally eliminate food waste, there would be more than enough food to feed an extra 2 billion people every day. It’s a staggering number.

Multiple sources confirm that about 30% of food is lost or wasted every day. And reducing food waste is going to become critical as the population is expected to grow from 7 to 10 billion people in the coming years.

Andrew Kris 

So, you’re saying we already produce enough food to feed that growing population?

Juan Aguiriano 

Theoretically, yes. And if you imagine all the resources which are associated to food waste; the land used, fertilizers, water, energy, and farm labour, the economic loss associated with food waste is enormous.

In fact, the cost to the economy is $936 billion a year.

Of the 2 billion people that could be fed by eliminating food waste, 700 million suffer from undernourishment or malnutrition. So, the food available by reducing food waste is three times the size of the population that currently needs additional food.

Obviously, it’s easy to talk about this, but so complicated to solve, because this waste takes place across many points along the value chain. But it’s certainly a subject that is growing in importance both in the minds of the consumers, as well as companies and their investors, because it is really an opportunity for a win-win-win across the board. Plus, it’s better for people, society, the planet, and the economy.

The good thing is, nowadays, 78% of consumers associate food waste with sustainability. This is based on research that Kerry commissioned. It’s not confidential, you can find it easily on kerrygroup.com.

As a consequence, consumers are starting to buy products that are marketed as more sustainable, circular products, which reduce food waste. And they are willing to pay more for this.

44% of consumers are willing to pay extra for food & beverage products devoted to solving food waste. So, this is excellent news for people in need and companies, because it’s no longer just a “nice to have.” It’s obviously a “must have” for the planet and for consumers. We can really say, “Look, sustainability is just doing the right thing, it is a business opportunity for us.”

Andrew Kris 

You mentioned in our earlier conversations, there are a couple of key categories that are the biggest culprits, the bakery industry and the meat industry. The bakery industry is very high-volume, right? And meat has the highest value. So, how do you see food waste being addressed from a category perspective?

Juan Aguiriano 

Firstly, we need to understand where food waste comes from in the supply chain. In emerging markets, food loss happens primarily in production, post-harvest and processing stages.

In developed markets, food waste is driven by retailing and consumer behaviours. The consumption stage is responsible for more than 40% of the food waste globally.

In the US and Australia, which are top of the charts, the majority of food waste is at consumer level. And sometimes up to 50% of total food that is wasted or lost every day.

Andrew Kris 

Getting produce in from the field used to be the biggest problem area, until plastics and packaging became better adapted to handle incoming food.

Juan Aguiriano 

That’s right, the big revolution was in packaging. There is also waste and loss at manufacturing level, and producers are working on that. There’s also food waste at retail level, QSRs, and in restaurants. In some cases, COVID has exacerbated some of these issues, but at the same time raised the awareness and consciousness about solving them.

So, in summary, in developed markets, the opportunities are at consumer level. An American consumer wastes 10 times more food annually than a consumer in Southeast Asia. There’s a massive difference there.

However, studies show that half of that food waste could be prevented or reduced by extending shelf life. So that’s another area where we can start looking for solutions.

In emerging markets, most food loss occurs early in the supply chain, before the food reaches the retailer. But again, many sources of this food loss can be directly addressed by preservation solutions as well.

So, let’s go back to your question about the categories. Bakery is the highest processed food waste category in terms of volume, and meat is the highest food waste category in terms of value as well as environmental footprint. Some statistics are interesting; 25% of consumers do not finish their bread before it expires, which translates to approximately 32 million loaves of bread being wasted each day globally.

However, there are ways to extend shelf life using clean label solutions. We’re not talking chemicals here. These are natural solutions which can extend the shelf life of bread by 75%. But these are not yet universally used.

Andrew Kris 

And we’re talking about something that is economically viable, of course, right?

Juan Aguiriano 

Totally economically viable. But it needs to be integrated in the formulation of broad-based bakery products. And if you calculate the environmental impact of wasting one loaf of bread, it comes to half a kilo of CO2 per loaf of bread and 568 litres of water.

So, multiply the 32 million loaves of bread every day by this footprint, and we’re talking about not only reducing economic cost, but we also have massive environmental impact.

Now in terms of meat, it gets even more interesting, because meat is already the number one consumer concern in regards to food safety; now consumers are also realizing the impact of food waste in meat.

20% of meat is wasted every day, and it’s by far the most carbon intensive category. Every kilo of beef produces 60 kilos of CO2. So, if you can save one kilo of meat loss, you would save 60 kilos of CO2 and 14,000 litres of water.

Andrew Kris 

That’s an incredible number, Juan.

Juan Aguiriano 

It is. And, that 20% of meat waste could theoretically feed 80 million people. So, Andrew, I think the mathematics speak for themselves. It then becomes a question of what is the right solution.

Andrew Kris 

Indeed, let’s discuss that too then, Juan.

Juan Aguiriano 

Andrew, the best solution is embodied in the principles of a circular economy, which is “reduce, reuse,” right?

So first, to reduce, I think the key lies in preservation solutions. That means maximizing shelf life, and doing it in a way that is acceptable to consumers. There are a number of historically “chemical type” preservatives that risk creating health issues; these are now being phased out. We don’t need to go through the list, but there’s a long list of things which are being replaced and reformulated, by so-called “clean label” solutions.

Clean label solutions are based on more natural ingredients, fermentation, enzymes, organic acids, and so on. There’s a broad range of products that can replace chemical preservatives, in order to maximize food safety and shelf life at the same time.

You also are trying to minimize the packaging. Obviously, if you shrink wrap every food in plastic, it lasts longer, but then you’ve created another form of waste, too much plastic.

We see more and more brands launching products that have a longer shelf life, less packaging, and more food waste minimizing claims. These very successful products are growing faster than the rest of the industry.

Andrew Kris 

Juan, we also see some efforts that are conceptually too narrow and not well thought out. Good intentions can actually result in an opposite effect. For example, minimizing the use of plastic can sometimes just lead to more food waste.

Juan Aguiriano 

That’s a great comment, Andrew. And that’s why this needs to be looked holistically, at the total sustainability impact rather than looking at just one of the factors; what looks like a good solution might be suboptimal in the broader picture.

That’s why you need to look at the circular economy end to end. Look at the total lifecycle of the product, what are you really reducing, and where do you reduce the most? And then you also need to look at different alternatives for the packaging, because different substrates have a different lifecycle assessment.

The element to consider is reuse. In situations where you can’t reduce the waste, can you reuse it? Mostly this comes down to industrial or manufacturing options. Take the beer industry for example. It’s a very interesting industry, because it has a relatively large footprint, since it generates a lot of spent grain.

The beer industry is taking a very interesting approach: can we repurpose the spent grain into useful ingredients that can be used to create something else? And so, instead of feeding animals or landfilling, can you repurpose the spent grain for human consumption? And you can.

A number of large beer producers are now creating solutions, such as plant-based protein beverages. And by doing so, they are closing the loop.

Instead of cultivating cereals to create plant protein, you’re reusing cereals that have been first processed into beer.

Andrew Kris 

I think your company, Kerry Group, has written up and made information publicly available.

Juan Aguiriano 

Yes, the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute is where we publish our scientific research. It’s an open innovation platform where we collaborate with universities and the academic world. We publish papers on the science of sustainable nutrition and on food waste.

It’s an open platform available for everyone. We don’t just publish white papers, but also host a number of public webinars each year.

Andrew Kris 

For our audience that has further interest in this topic, I suggest you visit kerrygroup.com to learn more.

Juan, special thanks to you for sharing your in-depth understanding of this important topic, it concerns us all – please remember the 2 billion people that will benefit from reducing food waste.

Interested in discussing the food and beverage industry in-depth? Get in touch with Borderless today.

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