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On September 29th 2020, we celebrated the United Nations 1st International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, recognizing the key role that responsible and sustainable food production plays in promoting food security but also in fighting climate change.

Covid-19 has caused ripple effects on food value chains, making food waste prevention a particular challenge over the last six months. Stories abound of dumped milk, beef destroyed in slaughterhouses, and crops being ploughed under. Many growers did not have enough workers for the harvest and, further down the food chains, closures at retail outlets and restaurants provoked hoarding caused by the fear of the food supply drying up. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We also witnessed amazing stories of efforts to mitigate the amount of food that would have otherwise be wasted. For example, in Sodexo’s case, we simplified menus and quickly established partnerships with our clients, local food banks and hospitals for food recovery. Our first move was to shift inventories from closed sites – like schools and universities – to active sites such as hospitals and government buildings. We then doubled down by empowering our site managers and chefs to find donation options for uneaten food from our client sites. That resulted in 40 tonnes of food in France being donated to essential workers on the frontline, over a thousand tonnes saved in the US through donations, and 2.7 million school meals offered to children despite closures in India, amongst others. At the same time, our on-site and supply teams also worked with our suppliers, especially small, vulnerable ones, to make sure we could work together to mitigate the drastic stoppage of activity by helping them to source active new clients, to quickly use up stock or by supporting them in transforming products like fresh fruits into jam thanks to our kitchen facilities.

It’s clear that the economic, social and environmental aftermath of the pandemic is only reinforcing the need to prevent waste. This effort was shared by the participants during  the recent Annual Meeting of the Champions 12.3 coalition held virtually last week with partners such as Tesco, Walmart, Ikea, Kellogg’s, and other companies. Many efforts and initiatives that were already in place pre-Covid helped instil a much-needed agility to further mitigate the disruptive impact of the pandemic. 

Looking forward, food value chains will continue to be disrupted in part because of the sanitary and economic impacts of Covid-19, but also increasingly because of climate change. We need more resilient, local and efficient food systems. That requires us to be better at planning inventories and agility in changing volumes with suppliers and to be better at supporting and sourcing from local producers. We will also collaborate for a farm-to-fork approach to avoid such spikes in food waste. Lastly, we will engage consumers in recognizing that food is precious if we are to move the needle on reducing food waste.

Whether by continuing to engage more companies to work together through the 10X20X20 initiative and committing to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030, encouraging governments to set targets to reduce food waste as part of their national environmental strategy, or raising the awareness of consumers, the collective work that needs to be done is cut out in front of us. For Sodexo, our commitment to reduce food waste in our operations by 50% by 2025 has never been more important. Progress is well underway with many initiatives starting to yield results, thanks to the relentless dedication of our teams to the cause.

As a certain frugality emerges in a time of deep uncertainty, as companies whose duty it is to feed the world, we need to make sure that what is being produced is being consumed. That requires collaboration, agility and relentless focus. For food’s sake, we owe this to the people we feed and to future generations.

Read the 2020 Sodexo Food Waste Consumer Insights Research - Download your copy today

This article was first published on the personal linkedin account of Denis Machuel, Chief Executive Officer for Sodexo

October 27, 2020

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