A simple online search for ‘food waste’ yields thousands of results; from official government reports to news of innovative initiatives spearheaded by global supermarket chains and local restaurants, the drive to reduce food waste across the supply and consumption chain has garnered significant publicity and investment, steadily gathering momentum to become one of the biggest global movements of our time.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimate that, annually, 30% of food produced for human consumption is either lost in the supply chain or wasted before it can be consumed, a staggering statistic that puts farmers, food manufacturers and processors, and their role as active players in preventing and reducing food waste, under the spotlight.
At the other end of the scale, In North America and Oceania alone, almost six million tons of roots are wasted at the consumption stage – equating to just over one billion bags of potatoes.
Not only does waste reduction positively impact the environment, but from a business perspective, it makes commercial sense to use every resource at your disposal, particularly in a high-volume, low-margin business.
The fact is, when it comes to waste reduction and efficiency - you can’t have one without the other. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation; environmentally and financially.
What are companies doing to reduce waste?
Global players such as Lamb Weston and McCain have taken a proactive approach, making waste reduction a key component of their corporate strategies.
On their website, McCain confirm that 80% of their potatoes go into finished products, such as fries, potato specialties or flake, while the remaining 20% of peel and cutter trimming is used for animal feed or converted to bio gas as a sustainable energy source.
Similarly, Lamb Weston vow to ‘utilize the whole potato’ as part of their sustainability roadmap by valorizing potato processing by-products per the Moerman Ladder, a model outlining how much value can be extracted from ‘unsuitable’ product. In this case, all potatoes that don’t make the grade for fries are processed into potato flakes, another high value product that demands an equally high value price.
These are just two examples of the way in which the potato industry is beginning to adopt an innovative approach towards food waste and, while a lot has been done, there is certainly a lot more left to do.
Most businesses, both big and small, understand the importance of investing in innovative technologies that help them to utilize the whole potato.
The War on Waste and the Future of Food
While, for many companies, waste reduction may be somewhat of a challenge, it is also an exciting time in terms of innovation and change. Investment in more efficient production methods and recovery of by-products will become increasingly crucial as a means of optimizing efficiency and maximizing returns.
Technology opens up a number of alternative possibilities. Firstly, it allows for the efficient use of sub-standard product by allowing it to be re-worked. Valorized by-product, such as food-grade starch or flakes, command a high commercial value while, product unable to be re-worked can be used as animal feed – a lower value product that nonetheless helps to reduce waste.
Not only does technology enable re-work, sophisticated systems limit mechanical potato damage during harvesting and minimize drop heights to protect quality on the main stream. Similarly, optimized peeling opens up new avenues for bio-refining potato peels into food ingredients or other components.
Zeroing in on Waste: Consumer Confidence and the Circular Economy
Effective waste reduction and management serves to improve operational efficiencies, but also responds to a growing awareness among consumers regarding sustainable consumption and their desire to partner with companies who align with their values.
Increasingly, customers see their consumption patterns as intrinsic to their identity. According to a consumer report published by Bord Bia, the Irish food board, younger generations are increasingly ‘cause-driven’ when shopping. It is therefore unsurprising that the successful businesses of the future will, according to Bord Bia, ‘avoid waste at all costs’ and see ‘opportunity in the waste of others’.
While some potato waste is unavoidable, there are ways to limit the impact on yields. In the fight against waste in the potato industry, the best defense is employing innovative technology that works to close the loop on waste and facilitate the re-work of sub-standard product.
According to the European Commission, ‘All key actors in the food chain, from those who produce and process foods (farmers, food manufacturers and processors) to those who make foods available for consumption (hospitality sector, retailers) and ultimately consumers themselves’ are responsible for helping to reduce food waste.
Managing losses in the supply chain is a key area of focus for businesses, now and in the future, and with the right technology and resources in place, we can begin to close the loop on food waste by employing better production processes that empowers users with the tools to reduce waste and improve efficiency.