By Michael Barker
As the food industry comes to terms with its responsibilities around food waste, poultry suppliers are playing their part in helping reduce hunger.
Tackling the problem of food waste at the farm gate has moved from being a cuddly CSR add-on to a central plank in any socially aware producer’s strategy.
The issue has been put into sharp focus at a time when sobering estimates claim 8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to eat. According to Wrap, some 710,000 tonnes of food surplus from manufacturing and retail is now either being redistributed via charitable and commercial routes or being diverted to produce animal feed, but there’s still a long way to go, and the poultry sector is waking up to the key role it can play.
“We’ve seen a big increase in the amount of surplus poultry coming into our network in the last six months,” says Mark Varney, director of network development at food redistribution charity FareShare. “In fact, it’s almost doubled. From April to September 2017 we were able to redistribute more than 71 tonnes of stock to charities. However, there’s a lot more to be done. We have over 24 depots across the UK and only two of them have a dedicated ‘poultry partner’. Ideally we’d like to get all of our regional depots linked to a poultry processor.”
Overall, FareShare estimates that it needs at least 10t of additional poultry every week to support the current needs of the frontline charities it supplies – and that’s without factoring in the 50 per cent growth in demand it’s braced for from the voluntary sector over the next three years.
Varney explains that there is a constant demand for chicken and turkey, proteins that are especially important for vulnerable people. That’s particularly the case at Christmas, of course – and there is a way that suppliers can help: “We’re always interested in solving the problem of seasonal surplus and Christmas is no exception,” Varney says. “Previously we’ve worked with poultry partners to blast freeze surplus turkeys, so we’re able to redistribute them to charities throughout December and January. We’d ask any poultry company dealing with surplus whole birds to ensure they do have the option to blast freeze.”
A number of major poultry businesses are already pulling their weight. In June, Cargill announced a new agreement to supply FareShare with free fresh chicken every week, which is helping the charity to distribute more food to the south-west of England. That adds to the £600,000 the company has already donated in funding since 2009.
Moy Park has been working with FareShare since March 2015, and last month revealed it had passed the milestone of 150,000 meals donated. In April, new processes were put in place which meant the charity benefiting from a daily supply of fresh chicken, which is used across FareShare’s network of 21 regional centres.
Faccenda has been working with FareShare for two years, donating one tonne of chicken every week from its Telford site to FareShare’s West Midlands regional centre, while the British Poultry Council is encouraging members to work with FareShare and made it its charity partner for the British Poultry Awards in September.
A diverse range of other volunteer-led organisations are also doing vital work, with the likes of FoodCycle serving over 850 meals a week, Community Shop creating the country’s first social supermarket and City Harvest redistributing over 500t in London.
Processors wanting to get involved with FareShare can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and Varney is at pains to point out that it’s not just about philanthropy. There are business benefits too, in terms of reducing waste and carbon footprints, as well as staff morale and engagement. More than that, in these times of an alarming rise in food poverty, it feels like the right thing to do.