Head of Trading Law and Technical at Tesco Ireland
Ireland’s food industry are working together to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets that respect the environment and serve local communities.
“Working in partnership with local suppliers to sustainably source the best quality Irish food and drink is invaluable to consumers and the wider network of suppliers,” says Tracey McDermott, Head of Trading Law and Technical at Tesco.
Leading by example
In working with local producers, large retailers, in particular, can become some of the biggest supporters of the Irish agricultural and food business sectors in the country. Sustainably sourcing from Irish food and drink suppliers and supporting farming families forms one part of the membership of Origin Green.
The Origin Green programme is one of the only such programmes worldwide that brings together the national government, the private sector, food producers and food retailers. It provides independent verification to retailers and the food production industry against set objectives.
“Building strong, trusted partnerships is essential to achieving sustainability targets, but it’s not a new thing for Tesco, many of our local suppliers in Ireland have helped us serve Irish shoppers for almost 20 years. It’s incredibly positive to work collaboratively to make our businesses more sustainable in the long-term”, says McDermott.
Perfectly imperfect produce supports local farmers
One of the ways retailers can work with their supplier base to achieve sustainable sourcing is by supporting farmers through buying bumper or flush crops. As all crops yield ‘perfectly imperfect’ fruit and vegetables, retailers can support their supplier if a crop is impacted by weather by selling misshapen produce rather than throwing it away when it fails to meet the picture-book ideal.
“Perfectly imperfect vegetables are still edible, so one solution, in the case of mushrooms, for example, is to slice them up and sell them as pre-prepared products for customers,” says McDermott. “In one year alone, 62 tonnes of food was saved from going to composting or waste this way. Late last year, working with Country Crest, (our potato and onion supplier) 300 tonnes of perfectly good-quality onions were salvaged.”
To reduce in-store food miles, stocking fresh meat and dairy products from local suppliers is an initiative that, as well as reducing its environmental impact, will also provide more support to the Irish food and agricultural sectors.
“All of the fresh beef, lamb, pork, chicken, milk and eggs that Tesco sells in Ireland is Irish” confirms McDermott.
Retailers can help to tackle food waste, for example, Tesco has made a commitment that that no food suitable for human consumption will go to waste by 2020. It is an ambitious but achievable target .
Publishing data on food waste efforts ensures full transparency in the bid to reduce the impact on the environment, with Tesco Ireland the first retailer in the Irish market to publicly declare their level of food waste in 2017. Cutting back on packaging is a key area of focus, too.
“We are working with suppliers to redesign and remove hard-to-recycle material from our stores,” says McDermott. “From 2025, all our packaging will be fully recyclable or compostable, and we are clear in our objectives to minimise use of plastic.”
When it comes to tackling food waste, though, McDermott is clear that time is of the essence.
“It is simply not right that perfectly edible surplus food should go to waste when there are people in our communities who need it,” she says.
Leading the way on tackling waste
By working in partnership with FoodCloud, a social enterprise that teams food retailers up with local charities and community groups, stores are able to redistribute surplus food on a daily basis to people in Ireland who are in need of it most in their local community.
“The premise is simple but incredibly effective,” says McDermott. “Staff in store share details of the surplus food they have available each day through the FoodCloud app, which is built into an internal system. Every evening, local causes collect the perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown out.”
The initiative has enabled the charitable sector in Ireland to save over €7 million on food, as verified by FoodCloud, since the programme first launched in 2014.
The future generation of farmers
“For the past two years Irish farmers have been welcomed on the Future Farmers programme, an initiative to help bright, talented, determined young people make a confident start in the world of agriculture; whether they are looking to take over the family farm, embark on a new farming venture, or to improve their knowledge of the industry.”
By providing participants with the opportunity to be exposed to all parts of the industry and supply chain, the Future Farmer Foundation has already helped to create a new generation of customer focused entrepreneurs in a fast moving and global industry.
Embedding sustainability at the heart of business must be of high importance to retailers, with a focus on working in partnership with stakeholders to make a real difference.
“Sustainability should be at the heart of every business; not just to achieve targets set for the near future, but to continue working collaboratively with suppliers to innovate and create real change in the food sector long into the future,” says McDermott.