Waste – far from a waste of time

The retail industry, aided by consumers, has a shocking record of food waste. Far too much good food is thrown away – because of a combination of retailers having to comply with over-zealous food regulations, and an element of laziness when looking at alternative ways of dealing with the problem.

As for consumers, they have a fixation with not consuming foods that are just a day over their sell-by-date and for not buying goods that have scratched or dented packaging even when it is clear that in no way can it have affected the contents.

Thankfully there are exceptions among retailers. Take Thornton’s Budgens with stores in North London’s Crouch End and Belsize Park. The business is run by one-man PR machine Andrew Thornton who has engaged in numerous activities that have helped his business stand out from the crowd.

But underlying his media-savvy persona is an objective of creating a sustainable business model and integral to this is his aim of completely eradicating food waste. To this end he is experimenting with many waste-saving activities including employing a chef.

This is a first in the UK (adopting a similar strategy as that employed at the People’s Supermarket where Thornton was a co-founder). You’ll see the chef wandering around the Crouch End store collecting food that has hit its sell-by-date, and from this he creates appetising dishes that are then sold on the deli counter.

Apparently the employment of chefs is more common in the US but has yet to be adopted in the UK. Although this move has a financial gain Thornton says it goes well beyond money as he regards food waste as “obscene”.

Any food that cannot be sold or used by the chef is passed on to FoodCycle and various charities for the homeless. With meats Thornton will freeze them before handing them over as this then gives them an elongated shelf life for the receiving charity.

Garden in the sky at Crouch End 

For inedible vegetables – or mulch – this is utilised on the roof of the Crouch End store as part of the cultivation of the ‘Food from the Sky’ initiative that involves growing various foodstuff on the rooftop garden. Every Friday the newest crops are delivered to the shop floor to be snapped up by quickly by eager shoppers.

Although Thornton says it is still an aspiration to have zero going into the stores’ bins, there is arguably no food store in the country that is doing as much to reduce its levels of food waste.

You will be able to read more about Thornton and his interesting way of running his two Budgens stores later this week when a profile will run on Retailinsider.com.