Food production is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, especially when you take into account agriculture, deforestation, and land-use changes. To make matters worse, every year around a third of the food that’s produced globally goes to waste.

According to Business Waste, the UK throws away around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in a single year, despite 8.4 million people living in food poverty.

There are many factors that contribute to food waste at various stages of the supply chain. In developed countries like the UK, consumer behaviour (such as over-purchasing and discarding edible food) is a significant driver of food waste, but it also happens before it reaches the consumer.

Inadequate infrastructure and storage facilities, inefficient distribution systems, and cosmetic standards imposed by retailers, all have a role to play. The food industry’s preferences for uniformity often result in perfectly edible but aesthetically imperfect produce being discarded.

Manufacturers also often produce more food than is demanded by consumers or retailers, either due to inaccurate demand forecasting or as a precautionary measure to ensure supply availability. This can result in excess inventory and surplus food that exceeds market demand.

Company Shop Group is one business working with retailers, manufacturers and brands to reduce this type of waste. Its end-to-end model redistributes products, selling them at affordable prices and supporting communities in need throughout the UK.

Every item sold in their supermarkets was previously destined for waste disposal, classified as ‘surplus’ by the companies that manufactured them. Company Shop Group rescues these products, by ensuring they’re saleable and safe to consume, and redistributes them to those who need them most.

“Food waste is a huge global problem. The UN Environmental programme estimates that food waste contributes about 9-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and about a third of all food manufactured ends up wasted,” says Owen McLellan, Managing Director of Company Shop Group.

Owen McLellan, Managing Director of Company Shop Group.

“We bring innovative solutions to try and find ways that we can make food that would otherwise be wasted available for consumption.” 

Company Shops are members-only stores, free to join and accessible to anyone who works in industries like FMCG logistics and manufacturing, the emergency services, NHS and armed forces, charity workers and those on mean-tested benefits — all of whom can buy food an average 50% less than retail prices.

“When members come in, the main thing they tell us is they can’t believe the range. It’s not just tins of beans or the odd ready meal; you can do a full shop.

“We will invest in more solutions to be able to process [food] waste. We will invest in more equipment, more capability, more expertise to allow us to be able to take more of that product. However complicated; however difficult it is…” says Owen.

Businesses choose to redistribute their products here, and as our reporter reveals in the film (see below),  customers find lots of well-known brands next to each other on every shelf.

[This partner film is produced by the ITN Business commercial team and is not created by ITN news staff journalists.]

In the Operations department, the technical team examine products once deemed as surplus and make them completely safe for the end user — by relabelling, repackaging, x-raying, and more.

Most importantly, for the group’s industry partners, Company Shop Group provide full traceability with brand protection a priority.

“We work with over 800 trusted partners; anything from manufacturers to retailers to supply chain, to understand and support them with the most complex surplus challenges,” explains Charlotte Slack, Head of Partnerships at Company Shop Group.

Charlotte Slack, Head of Partnerships at Company Shop Group.

“A big part of what we do is about taking the time to listen to what is a problem for them. As a business that’s been operating for over five decades, brand protection is 100% at the core of everything that we do.

“It’s about providing end to end traceability, it’s about making sure we have a technical system that is food safe, so we’re looking after their brand in exactly the same way that they’d be looking after their brand as well.

“The key part for us is to get as much of that edible food surplus back up the food waste hierarchy and back onto people’s plates where it was intended to be,” she says.

Alongside its main supermarkets, Company shop Group has 12 community shops in some of the UK’s most deprived communities. 

Over the past decade these innovative social supermarkets have supported more than 61,000 low income families, transforming lives through food.

Joseph Crow, Head of Impact, sits with Terry Preston, the company’s Chef Mentor.

Joseph Crow, the Group’s Head of Impact, explains that what they offer is more than just supermarket goods and low-cost food.

“It’s a multifunctional social supermarket. That means people can access the discounted goods through the store, but can also get access to additional services in the hub and kitchen — which help them take on some of these social, economic and environmental challenges that they’re facing within their communities.

“The kitchen is a place people can eat, share and connect over food.”

Terry Preston’s whole life changed when she became a member of her local Community Shop. When she found herself alone in a new town, vulnerable and heavily pregnant, Joseph and the team supported Terry and helped her plan a future for her and her son when she could see little future ahead.

Chef Mentor Terry was introduced to the Company Shop Group initially through her own need for support.

Once back on her feet, Terry applied to work at her local Community Shop and is now a chef mentor, running the kitchen, and supporting people who need the extra help, like she once did. 

“You feel like you belong within the four walls of Community Shop,” Terry explains in the film. “Everything’s there, provided for you, you’ve just got to want it. The impact it’s had on my life has been huge. Not just for me, but for my son as well.

“There are so many aspects to what we do — the social aspect, the bringing of people together — which I think that has a huge impact on communities; it makes communities stronger.”

Learn more in the realm of UK food production and the food and drink industry, in our programme Food & Drink: Powers our Nation.