Industry Insights · 8min read

Food Waste in the EU's Food Supply Chains

Learn facts about food waste and explore basic solutions for the reduction of food waste for manufacturers in the retail sector.

Food Waste Facts

Estimates show that EU-28 countries produce 88 million tonnes of food waste annually. Around 47 million tonnes, roughly more than half, of this waste takes place in households. In total, the losses along the supply chain account for €143 billion in estimated losses.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12 covers the need for more responsible consumption and production patterns. Within this area of action, the EU has committed to working to reduce food waste amongst retailers and consumers by 50% by 2030. 

In 2016, member states launched the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste to bring actors from public and private sectors together at one table. In 2020, Horizon’s REFRESH project partnered with FLW and launched a virtual resource centre, called Refresh Community of Experts (CoE) where actors can find and share knowledge about food losses. Furthermore, the EU’s New Farm to Fork Strategy, which is embedded in the European Green Deal, is set to revise the rules around ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ in 2022 as well as propose legally binding food waste targets by 2023.

The wider complexities of tackling food waste lie in the multitude of players that make up the food sector’s ecosystem: farmers, food producers, processors, gastronomers, retailers, government agencies, independent organisations and, of course, consumers. According to data from 2012, food waste in the EU can roughly be broken down by sector as follows: 

  • 53% in households

  • 12% in food services

  • 11% in production

  • 9% in processing

  • 5% in wholesale/retail

These numbers show that in order to cumulatively reach the goal of halving the EU’s overall waste, 50% of the effort needs to happen on the consumer side, and 50% needs to be tackled by businesses.


Food Waste in Retail

Within the retail sector, which comprises stores, warehouses, wholesalers and distributors, unpackaged foods, such as vegetables and baked goods, make up the bulk of food waste. The points along the food distribution chain in which waste is created can be broken down as follows:

  • Point of delivery (not meeting set standards after the processing stage)

  • Commission state (not meeting retailers’ expectations at the warehouse)

  • Distribution to retailers (not meeting retailers’ expectations at the arrival of order)

  • Storage & shelving (faulty systems, mishandling of products, in-store mishaps)


Common issues which lead to food being rejected or discarded at these stages include: 

  • Logistics issues (storage, cooling etc.)

  • Quality issues (lack communication, unfairly imposed specifications)

  • Inefficient inventory management (lack of digitalised processes)

  • Problems with packaging (damage) or labelling (certification)

  • Overproduction to ensure demand can always be met despite fluctuations (marketing)

According to a 2017 case study conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation in Peru, Senegal, South Africa, the UK and a major European port, cosmetic specifications and systematic and systematic overproduction were the main reasons that food is rejected in these areas of the supply chain.


What can food manufacturers do to help reduce food waste?

Imagery: (1) Del Barrett, (2) Etienne Girardet, (3) Elevate, and (4) Julian Andres Carmona via


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