I am one of the contributors to this blog, and I used to work at Waitrose for 3 years, on the food service counters. I loved my time there, and they are excellent for their employees. However, every night without fail, I would be forced to throw away bags and bags of perfectly edible food. Now I have left the company, I decided to write to them and ask why they insisted on this terribly wasteful routine.
Here is my letter. Forgive the sarcasm, I got rather carried away…
I am writing on behalf of Continuous Capital, a UK-based charity with several objectives, one of which being environmental welfare and sustainability.
I worked at Waitrose for three years, between 2008-11. During my time, I was primarily based on the service counters (Delicatessen, Patisserie and Meat & Fish) and in the bakery, preparing and baking fresh bread.
Throughout my employment, I was forced to gather up all unsold, out-of-date produce at the end of each working day, and throw them into the industrial waste bins outside in the loading bay. This has included several bin-bags’ worth of baguettes, cakes, ham, cheese, pastries and even whole birthday cakes.
It was utterly soul-destroying. When modern media informs us daily of our planet’s dwindling resources, starving children in developing countries, and even helpless, homeless, hungry men on the streets of Britain, I cannot tell you how disgusted I felt simply tossing away perfectly edible food.
I asked my line manager about the procedure, and Waitrose’s justification for it. She told me that there were two main reasons why they chose to dispose of good food so callously:
1) For ‘health and safety’ reasons, the food could not be consumed after 8 o’clock, when the store closed, because that was when the food became commonly known as ‘out of date’.
Obviously I hadn’t thought of this scientific explanation. I felt foolish not to have realised the significance of time in the eyes of a simple doughnut. Yes, it may look perfectly good to eat, neither stale nor dry; however, little do we know that after 8 o’clock, it instantaneously becomes despicably poisonous, ready to tear apart any unwitting child who dares approach.
I am fully aware (believe me, FULLY AWARE after all those excellent-quality training videos…) that this issue of health and safety is governmental, and you are just covering your own backs. But if you are choosing to excuse yourself through it, you’re not fooling anyone. Which leads me onto the second ‘reason’ for your actions.
2) Apparently, if you were to give the waste food to the starving and homeless, this would lead to a decrease in profits. How? Because the staff and customers might try and boycott Waitrose so that there will be more food for the poor. In other words, I might not reduce the cakes down enough, so nobody will buy them, and I can feel safe in the knowledge that Bill the Big Issue man will have one more chocolate eclair for supper.
Again, I am fully aware that a business runs on profit. I am not naive. Yet, I always considered Waitrose as a more community-based company, enhanced by your fair trade adverts, partnership scheme, and focus on local produce. Therefore, one would be forgiven for thinking you might use that clever marketing department of yours to find a solution to this horrendous problem, whilst simultaneously helping to enrich this image of the benevolent company you have always claimed to be.
I hope you will be honest with your response to my query. I still maintain that Waitrose is an excellent supermarket with regards to community and ethical sourcing. But I feel there is a long way to go before you can live up to the image you have created for yourself in the public eye.
I am fully aware that every supermarket acts this way. But I thought it would be nice if Waitrose could set an example for the others to follow, and change this destructive and wasteful procedure.
I look forward to hearing from you,
After a few days, I received this response:
Thank you for your e-mail.
Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you which is as a result of the high volume of e-mails being received at this time.
I would like to assure you that it is not in our business interest to produce any food waste at all, however inevitably food waste will occur.
There are three routes that we use for food waste disposal, depending on the branch catchment. One hundred and nine of our branches have access to Anaerobic Digestion, a process used to generate renewable energy. Under this process, food waste is collected from our branches and taken to an AD plant where it is converted into renewable energy which goes back into the national grid. Waitrose is leading the way in this field. AD is simple and convenient for branches as ALL food waste is collected including packaged waste, meat and liquids. It is our preferred route for food waste disposal as it eliminates the need to send it to landfill, in turn preventing the emission of methane into the atmosphere. The process also produces a fertiliser as a by-product, which farmers use for growing crops.
The majority of the remaining estate that does not currently have access to an AD plant therefore has to send its food waste to landfill at the present time, however our aim is to roll out AD to as many branches as possible. The third route we use is to send food waste for composting.
We currently work with the charity FareShare to ensure that any surplus stock produced by our own-brand manufacturers is given to worthy causes. FareShare ran a trial to redistribute surplus, fit for purpose food from our branches, however the charity found the amount of wastage was too low and therefore not viable.
Individual customer requests for food waste that would otherwise be destroyed, should be politely refused, even if for animals, as we have no mechanism to control the integrity of its use after it has left the branch. If the customer has made the request on behalf of a charity or animal hospital, the branch may suggest they can apply for a donation through the branch Community Matters scheme.
We hope that this information will be of assistance.
Waitrose Customer Sales and Support.