Sholto Hesketh looks at the pressing issue of food waste targets and what this could mean for manufacturers
A recent report from the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) called for larger food manufacturers and retailers to do more to help achieve national targets for food waste reduction. Already in place across the border in Scotland, as well as in the US and many EU member states, such targets would be imposed by the Government, requiring both manufacturers and retailers to comply with food waste targets. Add to this another recommendation to up the pressure applied to manufacturers to sign the voluntary Courtauld Commitment, which aims to improve resource efficiency and reduce waste within the grocery sector, and you can see why many manufacturers think it’s only a matter of time before these recommended waste targets become a reality.
But with certain tax breaks and incentives on offer to reduce waste, it’s not necessarily bad news for manufacturers, with real efficiency savings just one of the additional benefits to be realised by cutting waste and the associated costs. As with all business issues, the key is in the planning, and by starting to plan for these seemingly inevitable targets now, food manufacturers can hit the ground running when they are introduced - streamlining processes and discovering new business efficiencies at the same time. And as is often the case when it comes to improving process manufacturing, technology is a key enabler.
For example, the proactive management of inventory items nearing their expiry dates is one way to reduce or even prevent waste before it occurs. With the right technology in place, use-by or expiry dates for all items received into inventory are automatically recorded on the system, which then automatically generates notifications of pending expiry dates. This forewarning of potential out-of-date products enables manufacturers to mobilise alternative strategies, so perhaps selling on the ingredients or increasing the manufacture of a particular line while increasing promotions for that product.
Sector-specific systems can automatically work out the right expiry dates for entire batches of products. By taking into account an exhaustive number of potential variations, such as the date of actual production for sterilised products, or the component ingredient with the shortest expiry date in fresh or chilled products, an end product’s expiry date can be determined quickly and accurately. This not only provides greater control over the shelf-lives and expiry dates themselves, but can reduce waste costs and strengthen legal compliance at the same time.
Another benefit of turning to technology to assist with waste reduction is the ability of software solutions to take on the materials requirement planning aspect of the manufacturing process. By linking inventory directly to production, the right solution can provide automated replenishment functionality and accurate order forecasting, optimising stock levels, reducing or even eliminating over orders, and reducing waste in the process. Add to this the ability to automatically specify whether by-products or particular ingredients need to be condemned as waste or whether they can be reused (a capability that’s not so readily achievable with manual, paper-based systems) and you can see how technology is a must when it comes to optimising the efficiency of waste reduction.
With the prospect of real waste targets looming ever closer, food manufacturers should really focus on getting their own houses in order before they’re compelled to do so. But with the prospect of the right technology helping to decrease waste, while improving efficiencies and potentially increasing profits, putting the plans in place today to prepare for the targets of tomorrow is quickly becoming a more appealing proposition than ever before.
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