Food waste leaves a bad taste: Why UK consumers are unhappy with supermarkets

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British supermarkets’ efforts to ‘go green’ with sustainability and waste reduction programmes have proliferated in the last three years, but they do not appear to be keeping pace with consumer expectations.

According to market research that we commissioned, over a third (37%) of British grocery shoppers felt supermarkets are not doing enough to tackle the problem of food waste, with another third unsure on the issue. UK consumers genuinely care about this – two thirds (66%) of those questioned would be more likely to remain loyal to a supermarket group that had made a commitment to reducing food and packaging waste. And 64% thought large supermarket groups should be legally required to publish annual reports on food and packaging waste. 

On the upside, 65% of British consumers are confident that retailers and food manufacturers will have made progress in reducing food and related packaging waste by 2024. There’s clearly hope that in five years’ time things will have improved. 

Doing the right thing

But how? Efforts are being made on collaborative projects here in the UK. Working with the retail trade body, IGD and waste charity, WRAP large supermarkets and manufacturers are signing up to schemes to drive down the UK’s annual £20bn food waste bill by committing to halving waste from “farm to fork” by 2030. The aim is that by 2026, all large food businesses should have a target to cut waste from their operations.

Waitrose unveiled its Waitrose Unpacked concept this year testing consumer reaction to packaging-free shopping. Pilot stores feature dedicated refillable zones with unpackaged products on offer, and special dispensers for dried and frozen goods, coffee, beer and laundry detergents. Meanwhile earlier this year Tesco called for more businesses to publish food and packaging waste data, having reported that it has greatly reduced packaging on own-brand products. Sainsbury’s just announced that they will enable customers to refill their milk cartons. And, of course, supermarkets donating to charitable food banks are now commonplace.

Pressure to perform 

Facing up to corporate responsibility is vital, particularly where consumer anxiety around the survival of the planet is concerned. But another massive issue for supermarkets is their own commercial survival – UK grocery retailing has never been more competitive on price and customer retention, which have cut already slim margins down, to close to 0% for some chains.

Artificial Intelligence is critical to solving both these challenges. AI software solves real business problems by delivering highly accurate, automated mass promotional demand forecasting at chain, store and SKU levels. Enabling supermarkets to develop systems that will design out inaccuracies in stock forecasting, and so significantly reduce current levels of waste, protects margins and reassures shoppers that wastage is being addressed.

Shoppers filling their trolleys and online baskets would dearly love to trust their chosen grocer. Big data in retail and machine learning could be the answer to keeping them happy. 

Machine learning forecasting 

We’ve worked with large grocery groups around the world who have been able to materially improve their forecasting accuracy without disrupting their technical footprint.  

In one recent supermarket project using Rubikloud’s AI engine, the retailer was able to show an initial 7% improvement in forecasting accuracy. Each 1% improvement in the categories measured equated to tens of thousands of cases of product.  Monetarily, this improvement presented a $35M opportunity – just within the focus categories. 

Download our report today to find out more: 2019 European Grocery Data Report: What European grocery shoppers really want and how supermarkets can deliver it with AI

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