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Time to get tough on waste

Bread waste has reached phenomenal proportions compared to other food products. How can we turn the problem around?

Today some 85% of adults make an effort to reduce their food waste, according to a recent Mintel report.

With 90 million tonnes of food thrown away each year in the EU alone, most of us would agree that this is a both positive and necessary trend.

The bread industry has a particularly bad track record on waste, second only to lettuce and fresh apples.

In the UK, for instance, little short of a third of the bread consumers buy is eventually discarded. A major reason is that consumers tend to underestimate shelf life and prematurely throw bread away.

In an Austrian case study, bread waste at retail level is estimated at 10% of all the bread produced, with supermarkets accounting for 75% of that. Here, one of the issues is the expectation that shop shelves are always full, even half an hour before closing time. The study calculates that retail bread waste in Austria is equivalent to the annual bread consumption of one million Austrians.

Time to clamp down
The picture is similar in many countries. Provoked by the staggering volumes of food waste overall, early in 2012 the European Parliament passed a resolution aimed at halving the amount by 2025. The concern is that, without action, annual food waste in the EU will grow to 126 million tonnes in 2020 – equivalent to 500 million tonnes in CO2 emissions.

Although, at 1-2kg CO2 emission per kilo, bread has a carbon footprint similar to that of milk and considerably lower than that of beef, the high level of waste makes bread extremely important.

Interestingly, when it comes to alleviating the problem, the results of consumer opinion surveys point the finger of responsibility at the baker. So what can the bread industry do to help alleviate the situation? The answer is: quite a lot.

Longer-lasting freshness
One of the obvious ways is to use enzyme solutions that maintain bread freshness. If you read our article on shelf-life extension, you will see how ongoing R&D is raising the standard for fresh-keeping quality to unprecedented new heights. Consumers, who rely on their senses to determine whether bread is still okay to eat, can immediately feel the difference.

Improved, informative packaging
Better packaging is another opportunity. The right packaging materials and pack sizes for industrial bread not only contribute to longer-lasting freshness but also cater for the bread consumption habits of individual consumers. On-pack information can advise consumers on how best to store and handle bread in order to maintain its quality in the home.

More talk, more action
Above all, as the Austrian case study points out, improved communication between bakers and retailers is essential. Streamlined ordering systems, just-in-time deliveries and in-store displays that still look appealing even when only a few products remain at the end of the day are key to reducing the amount of bread waste by retailers.

Bread waste must be addressed by all of us who work within the bakery industry. And there is clearly much to be done. To maintain a strong market share in the long-term, consumer concerns, retailer demands and EU requirements are pressures we cannot afford to ignore.