Co-operative supports FareShare to cut food waste

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The Co-operative Group has signed up to support national charity FareShare and back its campaign to help communities relieve food poverty and reduce food waste across the UK.

It has pledged to help the charity after a pilot with FareShare North East from its distribution centre in Birtley, County Durham, which sent surplus food to disadvantaged people in the community.

The Co-operative, which is the UK’s fifth largest food retailer, has introduced the initiative at its distribution centre in Thurrock in Essex. The community-based retailer is also putting systems in place to launch the scheme at other sites across the country, including its depots in Newhouse, near Glasgow, and Lea Green on Merseyside, later this year.

The move coincides with calls from the charity for more companies to supply them with unwanted food, rather than throw it away.

FareShare is a national charity, founded in 2004, which aims to relieve food poverty and reduce food waste by taking surplus food and drink from the food industry and redistributing it amongst local communities.

Tim Hurrell, chief executive, The Co-operative Food, said: “FareShare is a fantastic charity whose simple concept of tackling food poverty and food waste is one we are delighted to support.

“Following the successful trial at our new Regional Distribution Centre in Birtley, County Durham, where FareShare North East were delighted with the quality and range of products we supplied them, we have launched the scheme at our depot in Thurrock. We are now also looking to introduce this initiative at our other depots across the country.”

During the trial, The Co-operative provided products to FareShare North East from its Birtley depot in Chester-le-Street, which included oversupplies, quality control rejections, damaged packaging and food nearing the end of its shelf life.

The Co-operative supplied 3.6 tonnes of surplus food from the Birtley depot which went to help some of the North East’s most disadvantaged. Last year FareShare North East supplied the equivalent of 250,000 meals to 35 organisations supporting disadvantaged people in the region.

FareShare North East is a partnership between The Cyrenians, the award-winning charity that supports vulnerable and homeless people in the North East, and FareShare, the national food charity, winners of Britain’s Most Admired Charity at the Third Sector Awards in 2010.

Lindsay Boswell, CEO at FareShare, added: “It is a fantastic boost for FareShare to link up with an organisation such as The Co-operative, which is well known for its strong ethical policy, and we welcome this development.

“With The Co-operative supporting our aim that no good food should be wasted, they have now taken a great step forward by implementing a dedicated IT system to identify stock nearing the end of its shelf life that can be redistributed to benefit those in need.

“We are looking forward to working with The Co-operative when it introduces the initiative at other distribution centres across the UK, which will hopefully help us increase the number of people we help from the current 30,000 who benefit from our service every day.”

The majority of Co-operative food outlets are convenience stores and mid-sized supermarkets, which do not generate the amounts of waste that larger supermarkets do, so it is not practical to operate a FareShare scheme at store level.

The Co-operative is committed to keeping food waste to a minimum and has several processes in place to minimise product waste, both at store level and in the supply chain. It is an active supporter of WRAP’s “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste, as well as providing practical advice and solutions to help consumers waste less food.

In 2009, The Co-operative became the first retailer in the UK to include storage instructions for fruit and vegetables on its loose fresh produce bags, to help tackle the growing problem of household food waste.

In February, The Co-operative Group launched its Ethical Operating Plan to set a new benchmark for corporate sustainability in the UK, making it easier for customers to shop ethically and benefit their local communities. The Co-operative believes its new Ethical Operating Plan will spearhead the move to a more environmentally-sound and just UK economy.