Across the globe food prices are rising rapidly. The potential causes are many including big ticket issues like rising demand in emerging markets, oil prices, bio fuels, trade tariffs, global warming, population growth and tight supplies. With all that lot stacked-up its no wonder that prices are going up. Big problems call for big solutions and we have innovations such as GM technology and global cooperation coming to the fore.

But just how efficient is the value-chain of food production? How much waste is built into the process?

Here in the UK, a recent study by Waste & Resources Action Programme estimated that one third of food people buy is thrown away unused. The report makes incredible reading and examples of annual waste include 1.2 million sausages & 4.4 million apples. This inflates the cost of food as more has to be produced to compensate for the waste.

What kind of improvement could we get if we just ate what we bought?

Another example is the European Union’s food quality standards that specify the dimensions that fruit & vegetables must reach in order to be class one. Hence if it’s out of spec it doesn’t get through. The food is not dirty, rotten or diseased just misshapen. Luckily these rules are planned to be rolled-back as commented by an EU spokesperson, “People are saying that prices are too high, it makes no sense to be chucking food away. We want to have two classes, allowing supermarkets to sell funny shaped vegetables”. It’s just another form of waste. I have no figures on how much is lost in this part of the value-chain.

I noticed a recent example in the US election. There was talk about how to solve demand for oil and the need to start drilling offshore. Barack Obama comes in with “keep your tyres correctly inflated”. Not sure on the math but throw in cars with better mileage and I would guess its going to have an impact.

The point is it’s just the same in business; there are always the low-hanging fruit (and veg?). Start by doing the big easy wins that cut unnecessary waste. In general they are not particularly radical but can have dramatic outcomes.

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