Tesco - Winner of The Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities

Tesco’s surplus food redistribution scheme

Award Type: 

Winner - The Experian Award for Building Stronger Communities
  • The scheme has donated over 5.7 million meals to more than 3,500 charities in communities across the UK
  • The scheme has benefited around 217,000 people needing local charities and groups in their communities

Tesco’s surplus food redistribution scheme has so far donated 5.7 million meals to 3,500 charities across the UK – with minimal impact on sales or store operations. Here’s how it has done it

When one in nine people around the world go to sleep hungry, no-one wants to see edible food thrown away. Waste also costs money and puts pressure on natural resources.

Supermarket surplus – which has been a contentious issue in the past – is far better in hungry bellies rather than landfill, simultaneously tackling food waste and food poverty.

Food not only represents a free lunch, but it can make a real difference to people’s lives just being served by a friendly face.

In 2015/16, 1 per cent of Tesco’s food went to waste. This might sound like a tiny proportion, but that is equivalent to 59,400 tonnes. Luckily,

The supermarket has made a public commitment that no food that’s safe for human consumption will go to waste from its UK retail operations by the end of 2017


And technology is helping to make this happen.

How technology is stopping food from going to waste

The retailer’s surplus food redistribution scheme, Community Food Connection (CFC), connects stores and local charities. In partnership with small social enterprise, FoodCloud, and food redistribution charity, FareShare, Tesco invested £2m to fund the technology, making use of its handheld devices for key stock control tasks, and a call centre to provide support for charities using the scheme.

A store with good food that they cannot sell can upload a description of the food using their in-store scanner or our smartphone app. Then, a local charity linked to the store through the platform receives a notification letting them know food is available for collection. The charity responds accepting the food and they go and collect it.

The scheme is free and simple for charities to use, and the surplus helps feed people at youth clubs and breakfast clubs, as well as homeless shelters and substance-abuse rehabilitation charities.

The first pilot store started donations in May 2015 and by August, there were ten stores on board says Alec Brown, head of UK stakeholder communications at Tesco.

The pilot helped validate the overall approach, but prompted the team to redouble their efforts on training, engagement, reporting and the store support structure needed through the rollout. “The pilot also provided necessary evidence to convince internal stakeholders to donate the food earlier in the evening than it would have typically been wasted – say, 8.30pm – making the scheme accessible to more charities and community groups, but with minimal impact on sales or store operations,” says Brown.

Food donations across the UK

Through CFC alone, Tesco has donated over 5.7 million meals to more than 3,500 charities in communities across the UK, redistributing surplus store food that would have otherwise gone to waste. The charities have an average 62 service users, meaning the scheme has benefited around 217,000 people needing local charities and groups in their communities.

With public funding at a squeeze for the third sector, money saved on food from using the service – averaging £10 per week per charity – is being put to better use. That might mean hiring a chef to cook hot meals, providing extra services for clients or funding day trips for disadvantaged children.

As Granton Youth Centre in Edinburgh reported: “Without the support we get from FareShare we certainly would not be able to make the books balance and so it’s likely that without this we wouldn’t be around.” Indeed, 59 per cent rely on the food they collect and would not be able to function without it, according to a survey of FareShare’s first 500 charities.

Tesco has at least one charity or community group partnership in every one of its 805 large stores, and is on track to have this in every small store too by end of 2017 – that’s a further 1,800.

Staff are keen advocates of the scheme, with the issues of food waste and poverty really resonating, and making them highly engaged and proud to work for Tesco.

Customers feel similarly strongly about the issues, and the scheme demonstrates that Tesco is a responsible and supportive neighbour. In essence, the scheme not only helps those who need it most, but also shows how effectively Tesco can work to do good for its communities.

It is an innovation that can be used across the whole retail sector, and is already being piloted by Waitrose.