At a time when global food prices are rising higher and faster than at any time in the last decade, an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. About one-third of the food produced globally contributes some 8 per cent to greenhouse gas emissions. While most of the waste is domestic, people buying food they do not consume, waste occurs at all stages in the food chain. Initiatives that have been introduced to reduce the waste from overproduction include Agricycle, and for non-purchase, Too Good to Go.
In Sheffield in 2018, Paul Simpson and James Barthorpe co-founded Food Circle Supermarket an online award-winning supermarket that tackles food waste from overstocking and meets an ever-growing consumer demand for healthy food at discount prices. Having graduated, respectively, in Business from the University of Huddersfield in 2014 and History from Sheffield Hallam University in the same year, Paul and James both worked for The Company Shop, the UK’s leading redistributor of surplus food and household products. Founded in 1985 by former corner shop owner John Mirren, the Company Shop saved, in 2021, 34,590 tonnes of surplus food and household products from needlessly going to waste, thereby yielding a return to its supplier partners of £32.9 million for the year and £165 million for the decade.
John’s objective in setting up the business was not just to support the grocery retail sector and create wealth but to protect the planet and build stronger individuals and healthier communities. He saw waste not as a disposable issue but as a redistribution one and so established a business based on its partners (leading manufacturers and retailers) either donating or selling their surplus stock to the business, which then retails it at a discount to its members (employees who work in the FMCG food supply chain, NHS staff and members of the Emergency Services). As Steve Butts, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Morrisons has observed “The model works supremely well, primarily because it is sustainable. They’re able to redistribute stock effectively through their own network through a supply chain they built up and through really strong relationships to make sure food is sold to people who really need food at a discounted price”.
Not content with this, John opened, in 2013, Community Shop to help people in disadvantaged communities and tackle the dual challenge of food waste and food poverty. While Community Shop ensures the stock is available to the lowest income communities at heavily discounted prices, out of its profits it also operates Community Hub and Community kitchen. At Community Hub, people receive training and development to help them become the best version of themselves while at Community Kitchen they can not just enjoy good quality meals at low-cost prices, but build networks and develop a sense of community. By 2021 members had saved a total of over £7.5 million while some 739 had moved into full-or part-time employment and 932 into higher education.
In February 2021, 69-year-old John sold The Company Shop Group to the National waste management company Biffa plc for £82.5 million. Speaking at the time of the takeover, Michael Topham, Chief Executive of Biffa, said “we share a common set of goals, including the continued development of profitable, sustainable waste management solutions while making a meaningful contribution to society”.
As envisaged by John Mirren, the Community Shop Group is very much a Harmonious Enterprise in which Profit, planet and people are in harmony. The Group addresses SDGs 2 (No hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible consumption and production), 15 (Life on Land), and 17 (Partnerships for the goals) plus 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 4 (Quality Education) and 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). It is to be hoped that Biffa continues to operate The Company Shop Group as its founder envisioned, and that Paul Simpson and James Barthorpe have learned from him and will follow his example. With an estimated 810 million people in the world going to sleep each night hungry, and food prices rising, we cannot afford to waste the food we produce.
Gill, V (2021) Food waste: amount thrown away totals 900 million tonnes. BBC News, 4th March. http://www.bbc.co.uk.
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