Counting the Cost of Food Waste in a Cost-of-Living Crisis

Ollie Brand
Cost control
Food service

The UK foodservice industry throws away 1.1 million tonnes of food every year. Eliminating food waste is no longer a significant environmental challenge but has also become both a serious business issue and moral imperative.

According to statistics from WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), retailers, foodservice operators and hospitality businesses in the UK throw away 1.1 million tonnes of food every year. Totalling around 2.4 billion meals in the UK alone, this scale of wastage poses a serious environmental challenge. According to, if food waste were a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US.

At a time when we are experiencing a cost of living crisis and a hospitality sector that is struggling amid soaring global cost of food inflation, eliminating food waste is no longer a significant environmental challenge alone; it has also become both a serious business issue and moral imperative. The latest survey of the nation’s food intake has revealed a 57% jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or skipping meals over the first three months of this year. More recently, two million UK adults have admitted to going without food for a whole day because they couldn’t afford it.

Counting the cost of waste defines food waste as 'food that is intended for human consumption that is wasted and lost at any point across the supply chain, from farm stage to harvest to households'. To minimise waste, therefore, we need to look across the whole of the supply chain.

And, the food service industry has a critical role to play. A great deal of wastage can be attributed to avoidable inefficiencies within the sector, which has led to extortionate quantities of food being wasted over the years. Whether that is due to over ordering, stock taking errors or customers leaving food on their plates, turning a blind eye to wastage during the current climate is no longer an option; the time has come for the industry to count the cost of waste.

Food waste and the bottom line

In a sector that has faced its fair share of difficulty over the last couple of years, business survival in the hospitality sector remains on a knife edge. And, every item of food wasted - no matter how small - there is a cost implication. If you don’t have complete visibility of true costs, and accurately account for everything that goes in and out of your business, your wastage can quickly impact the bottom line.

Accurate and real-time stock management processes ensure complete visibility of cost control. This enables chefs and managers to have reliable stock rotation and inventory management, helping reduce the likelihood of wastage. This cannot be done effectively manually.

Achieving a waste-free industry

Efficiently-run kitchens must innovate their processes and need to invest in technology that will automate these processes - quickly and efficiently.

Zupa, itself signed up to miminum’s carbon neutral programme, is an advocate for a waste-free and carbon neutral industry. Its hospitality P2P system, Caternet, has been developed to ensure clients not only have full recipe and stock management control but can also fully manage their production and inventory levels, ultimately helping to cut operational costs and reduce food wastage.

Caternet allows catering teams and businesses to break up what goes into standard service. This could be cost per head, per potato or a complete itemised overview of what is needed for the entire service. These are all powerful insights for catering operations.

Whether there is a predictable number of heads coming through every mealtime or a variation in numbers from one day to the next, chefs can measure how they have performed at each service, against their budget and revenue. This provides real time control and flexibility, enabling chefs to react quickly and vary the numbers and automatically order the appropriate amount of food, giving them optimum control of stock management and wastage.

Can food waste become a thing of the past?

Historically, food wastage has happened under the radar, but the UK Government has now released its delayed consultation, indicating that by the end of the 2024/25 financial year it will become mandatory for businesses to measure and publicly report their food wastage data. Once wastage is brought into the spotlight and is under the scrutiny of the general public, firms will want to ensure they can demonstrate they are doing everything they can to prevent food being wasted.

And food waste reduction is not only going to be a legislative imperative. As we wrote in our blog on sustainable procurement, it is starting to make wider business sense too as consumers are becoming more eco-savvy and increasingly favouring brands who walk the sustainability walk.

The good news is that technology is catching up and solutions, like Zupa’s hospitality P2P platform Caternet, are making it easier for businesses to keep on top of food waste in a way that will not only help the bottom line and align to legislation, but will also provide hospitality experiences that will appeal to their customers' growing eco-palate.

Sources & further reading

What is Food Waste? | Earth.Org Food wastage footprint and climate change.pdf