Supply chain opinion

Are the challenges of 2020 likely to increase food waste?

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Howorth: 'A third of the food we consume is sourced directly from the EU'
Howorth: 'A third of the food we consume is sourced directly from the EU'

Related tags Supply chain

The volatility in supply and demand that characterised 2020 shows no signs of abating, driven by the continued uncertainty of COVID-19 and our messy divorce from the EU.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether the uncertainty around Christmas gatherings due to infection risk, as well as how strictly the public adhered to the 'three households rule', translated into Christmas buying habits.

Did the nation continue to purchase Christmas food and drink in the levels they normally would? And even if they did how did this materialise in pack and portion size? Turkey for a single household of four or a family get together of twelve? And what about impacts of a staycation festive period and to regional demand?

Surplus stock

This years’ more muted celebrations and changed demand may have led to smaller or different purchases and, subsequently, retailers and manufacturers being left with surplus stock. If this did indeed come to pass, food waste is highly likely to have increased during the turn of the new year, and possibly even during the weeks to come.

Given the industry currently accounts for 1.9 million tonnes of food waste annually, according to FareShare​,​ all possible efforts must be made to minimise waste – not add to it. 

Once through the festive season, we must also consider the looming spectre of Brexit, which has featured prominently in the national news over the past few months as the Government, and subsequently the rest of the country, wakes up to what food manufacturers and the supply chain industry has been telling them for years: we are in for serious disruption at best and, at worst, utter chaos.

Brexit disruption

Specifically, a worry with Brexit disruption is the very real risk of short shelf-life products being delayed during cross-border movements and, potentially, rotting at the ports before they can reach their intended destination. 

A third of the food​ we consume is sourced directly from the EU and much of our fresh produce, such as fruit and vegetables, is imported and brought to the UK in refrigerated vehicles.

If vehicles continue to be delayed due to Brexit cross border delays this cargo could become obsolete. And if vehicles get caught up in the chaos and hauliers decide that the cross border delays are not worth it then there could be a lack of transport capacity to move product driving product waste at the source.


If shortages begin to be experienced this could, in turn create the prospect of spikes in consumer demand and subsequent stockpiling as panic, either from Brexit or COVID-19, grips the country. And so the volatility in supply and demand continues.

We know that where it is possible there has been significant stockpiling to protect against Brexit disruption and volatility in demand. It will be critical that supply chain partners plan and collaborate to ensure that this is coordinated across the supply chain for the industry to keep the scourge of food waste to a minimum, battling industry headwinds to build upon the worthy work done by the industry throughout 2020.

Dave Howorth is executive director at Scala​, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain & logistics sector.

Related topics Supply Chain Fresh produce Brexit

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