Across all stages of food supply chains, there are inefficiencies where food goes to waste and costs people money. From tomatoes or pomegranates that rot in fields because it isn’t profitable to harvest them, to dough sticking to machines in a plant, there are many instances where this waste can be captured and upcycled to feed the world’s population.
Emma Cahill, global marketing director at ingredients supplier Kerry, will give a presentation at next month’s Fi Europe 2022 event in Paris on how reformulating to reduce food waste can unlock value for organisations.
Cahill has a background in agricultural finance and international marketing, and leads marketing strategy for Kerry’s food protection and preservation business.
“We believe in creating a world of sustainable nutrition, and we do that by bringing together taste and nutrition,” Cahill said. “We say that we protect and perfect food. You can stop a loaf of bread from going mouldy for many days, but if it’s stale or doesn’t taste good, it’s still going to go to waste.”
According to the United Nations, 14% of all produced food is lost between harvest and retail, and 17% of the total global food production is wasted every year. This waste translates into more money spent on water, energy, and labour, and it’s always been an unfortunate cost of doing business in food production.
It was a wake-up when Cahill started her journey in the food industry, she said. “I was hearing [that] we’re going to need three planets’ worth of resources to feed the global population by 2050. It was this scare factor that there wasn’t enough food to feed the world and we needed to do something about it.”
She described having an “a ha” moment after learning more about the impact of wasted food, and that eliminating food waste around the world would result in more than enough food to feed the population.
It’s a crucial time for the food industry to tackle its enormous waste problem, after years of volatility caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Worldwide inflation has tripled the price of wheat, for example, and consumers are cost-cutting their grocery lists, and overall food spend.
With the supply chain under immense pressure, everyone is trying to unlock efficiency, Cahill said. More affluent consumers are able to “trade down” to cheaper retailers and low-cost private label products. But non-affluent consumers have fewer options.
More efficient manufacturing keeps costs down
That’s what makes research and advancements in food preservation so important, Cahill said.
“[We’re] innovating to offer real value in new product lines to consumers that are changing their behaviours because of inflation, but also unlocking efficiency to protect the price of basics, like a loaf of bread, for those consumers who really can’t go anywhere except eating less food.”
Kerry has committed to this cause and believes that the food industry needs to collaborate more to find what works. “How else do you solve a problem but by working together?” Cahill asked. “If we’re going to solve the problem of food waste, I think we all need to work together and share knowledge.”
Cahill said that Kerry has invested heavily in shelf-life extension technology, as well as upcycling in the supply chain. The company works with customers to reduce waste and identify new waste streams of value, what they call “making taste from waste.”
Making taste from waste
A food manufacturer may be wasting perfectly good product parts that they have no use for. But if they can be collected from a food safe environment, it’s possible that those materials can be repurposed and find value elsewhere.
Raspberry seeds can be redirected from a waste stream and be used to make botanical flavours, or coffee grounds can be useful in meat processing. With the technology of enzymes and fermentation, Cahill said that much of our food waste can be transformed back into high value items.
Alongside her colleague Dr Sabina Cairoli, Cahill will present real case studies of these waste and cost optimisations at Fi Europe in December. “What we’re trying to do is show the industry that there’s a huge return on investment in reformulating to reduce food waste,” Cahill said.
“If brands aren’t doing this, they’re leaving money on the table. And if their competitors are, they’re going to find that they can’t keep up from a profitability point of view.”
Cahill and Cairoli will also demonstrate Kerry’s new Food Waste Estimator that launched in September. Industry players and the general public can access the tool for free and use it to get an idea of how prolonging shelf life affects food waste and estimate the impact of reducing it.
Cahill said the estimator is already being used by the industry to justify investments in reformulation that reduce waste and show their value.
“It’s depressing that food waste is such a bad thing, but it means that if you make a tiny change, it has a huge impact,” Cahill said. “That’s my big takeaway—no matter how insignificant it seems, that small change will have a ripple effect.”