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Guiding the food industry towards a transformation that is critically needed – interview with Matt Simister, Central European CEO of TESCO

Food waste is considered a major environmental problem. The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that almost 700 million people suffer from hunger, yet it’s estimated that one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted. According to the multinational groceries retailer TESCO, the environmental impact of food waste is significant: 40 per cent of food is uneaten and food waste is responsible for 9 per cent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

On the day of the Budapest Climate Summit, CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Matt Simister, Central European CEO of TESCO about the achievements of the company in the region, the new targets and the partnership with WWF Central and Eastern Europe on providing scientific evidence-based recommendations for sustainable food systems in CEE.

Thanks to a significant reduction of food waste across the region since 2017, TESCO has already achieved the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 of halving food waste by 2030. But there is certainly a lot to be done yet.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face, as a society and as a business,” Matt Simister begins. “The food sector is responsible for 30 per cent of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Urgent action is needed to meet international climate goals and avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.”

TESCO has already taken action in its own business, reducing operational emissions across the Group by 52 per cent since 2015, switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity in all of the store stores and cutting food waste by 69 per cent.

“But the majority of emissions and food waste associated with our business are generated in our supply chain, or through the consumption of our products,” he points out. “Last year we strengthened our ambition to tackle climate change by announcing a new Group-wide target for our operations to be climate neutral by 2035. The new target applies to all our businesses. We have also committed to be net zero across our value chain by 2050, in line with the UN’s aspiration to keep global warming below 1.5C.”

Often referred to as Scope 3 emissions, Tesco’s 2050 commitment covers all emissions generated across the entire value chain, including the sourcing of raw materials and food production, where emissions are generated through agriculture and manufacturing; in the use of Tesco products in the home, including food waste and cooking; and in peoples’ dietary choices.

Indeed the current situation (inflation, geopolitical turmoils, high energy prices, war in Ukraine, food crisis) has impacted Tesco’s operations in the region.

“The war in Ukraine required our immediate assistance to support refugees, those who remained in Ukraine and colleagues in cooperation with our strategic partners,” underlines Mr Simister. “Our goal was to provide the fastest and most effective support possible by working together and combining our professional competencies.”

He goes on by saying that high inflation and rising energy prices have also hurt customers who respond rapidly, changing what they buy, how often, which brands and where from.

“We’re absolutely committed to doing what we can to help customers manage their budgets at a time when we know many families are struggling,” he continues. “Our operation is similarly affected by the increasing supply chain costs, mostly through the increase of energy cost.”

“Amid these circumstances, we had to develop a bold and agile response to the changing customer needs, in parallel with reducing our overhead costs. Customers are paramount to Tesco and we are with them every step of the way. Our Low Price Guarantee, Clubcard prices and other discount options (for example, the one available in Hungary for the retired on Tuesdays) provide great deals to balance the costs well.”

Tesco has been committed to tackling food waste from farm to fork since 2016/17 when it published its food waste data for the first time as the first retailer in Central Europe.

“Since then we’ve taken a target-measure-act approach to reduce waste firstly in our own operations and then in collaboration with some of our most important Tesco brand suppliers,” Matt Simister explains.

“So far, across Central Europe, we’ve managed to reduce the food waste in our operation by 69 per cent by saving more than 87,092 tonnes of food that would have gone to waste.”

Matt Simister
Source: TESCO.

“Our year-on-year waste reduction was mainly the result of operational improvements that help reduce levels of unsold surplus food,” he adds. “This includes simplifying our product ranges to reduce the number of slow-selling lines and match supply and demand more accurately through our store forecasting and ordering systems. In addition, we continue to improve our reduce-to-clear process in stores which further reduces levels of unsold food. The continued rollout of our food surplus redistribution programme helps ensure that food not sold in stores is offered to those in need (for human charity or to animal shelters) and only the remaining products become waste. However, some of them are recycled as energy in biogas plants. We’re also using technology to help us, such as the innovative Food Cloud app which we use in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to match unsold food with food banks and charity groups who can put it to good use.”

As no one can tackle food waste alone, cooperation is key.

“That’s why, since we first published our food waste data, we’ve been working with our suppliers to halve food waste in our supply chains by 2030,” Mr Simister explains. “In these years of unprecedented challenges for retailers, suppliers, and customers, tackling food waste has never been more urgent. It not only contributes to climate change, but it also has an impact on our pockets.”

He believes that we can control what we measure, which is why TESCO encourages suppliers to disclose their waste data and develop reduction plans.

“We are therefore very pleased that we have been able to increase the number of our suppliers who publicly report their data on food waste every year to 16 this year, which is 7 more than in 2021,” he says. “Having 16 strategic Tesco suppliers on board makes a strong sustainable impact on our food supply chain. We’d love more of our suppliers to join us in reducing waste all the way along the chain.”

In October, Tesco partnered with WWF for the launch of the Principles for Sustainable Food Systems in Central Europe.

“While agriculture has occupied half of all habitable land on the planet, the food system is also one of the biggest drivers of global emissions and a significant threat to nature, causing 60 per cent of global biodiversity loss.”

Matt Simister

“To guide the industry towards a transformation at the scale and speed that is critically needed, we have worked with WWF to create seven Principles for Sustainable Food Systems in Central Europe, which have been adopted by Tesco for implementation in its own business and with its partners to support the transformation for sustainable production and consumption,” says Mr Minister.

He explains that WWF Principles for Sustainable Food Systems in Central Europe is a scientific evidence-based recommendation for retailers, food processors and food producers. Specific goals are set for the food industry in areas such as Climate, Food waste, Packaging, Deforestation and Conversion, Agriculture, Fishery and Aquaculture and Diets.

“Adopting these principles in business practice is a journey to cut emissions, reduce food waste, make packaging more sustainable and work with partners to improve supply and help create sustainable choices, affordable and attractive for customers,” he concludes. “WWF, together with Tesco, invites retailers and food producers to join the principles and implement them into their businesses and policymakers to support them in this critical journey.”

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