‘It’s just a responsible way to do business’: Tesco teams up with Jamie Oliver to tackle food waste

The UK’s largest supermarket has launched a nationwide programme designed to help community groups prepare nutritionally balanced meals out of surplus food donations as it looks to find new ways to tackle the issue of food waste.

Tesco is launching a new training programme with Jamie Oliver that will teach more than 1,000 community cooks how best to use surplus food donations to help stop good food going to waste.

Unveiled at Goodinge Community Centre this morning (24 January) with the help of Oliver, the Tesco Community Cookery School has been set up to give free training and advice to community groups. That advice includes how to prepare nutritionally balanced meals and what to do with unusual or unexpected ingredients and large quantities of seasonal produce, as well as teaching new skills, such as how to use knives.

Speaking to Marketing Week after serving minestrone soup made from food waste to the room, Tesco boss Dave Lewis said the initiative – which is expected to reach around 5,000 centres as it rolls out this year – is a natural evolution of what Tesco has been doing for the last decade and “just a responsible way to run a business”.

“The truth is, in supermarket retail you’re always going to have that issue of supply and demand,” he said. “Food is very central to the Tesco business, so the idea of healthy, affordable, sustainable food is central to what we want to do. We don’t want to be in a situation where we know it’s still safe to be eaten but legally you can’t put it on the shelf again.”

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Tesco has made tackling food waste one of the major tenets of its brand. Back in 2013, it promised to end promotions on salad because it was leading customers to buy more than they needed and in 2016 pledged to end edible food waste by March 2018.

It ended up missing that goal but sees its work with local communities as key to cutting waste.

Tesco’s partnership with UK charity FareShare, which is also involved in the new programme, already distributes food to more than 7,000 community centres, equating to around 300,000 meals a week.

However, while a number of the volunteers at the centres are qualified and capable chefs, many agreed that some help around what to do with the donated food was where Tesco could help the most.

“That’s where it’s evolved,” said Lewis. “It’s not about wanting to be known for it [leading the food waste agenda], it’s a responsible way to run our business.”

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While Tesco is not planning on communicating the programme with customers – “we’re not doing it for a marketing campaign,” Lewis said – it will tie in with Tesco’s ‘blue token’ charity scheme in-store. For example, people will be able to use their tokens to vote for their local community centre to get a new oven.

“The thing that’s really interesting with the community is that you start this way and then find another way of helping and another way,” Lewis concluded. “It’s all about giving back.”