France is a world leader when it comes to food sustainability. This is largely down to the country’s progressive approach in regulating against food waste - supermarkets are banned from throwing away food, and restaurants have to provide doggy bags when asked. To maintain France’s dominant position, however, the French hospitality sector should focus on waste prevention in 2018 to drive down waste and cut costs.
France retains its number one position in the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), which was developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition. The FSI measures the sustainability of food systems across three pillars: food loss and waste; nutritional challenges; and sustainable agriculture. It looks at 34 countries worldwide. Germany, Spain and Sweden are also in the top five, while the UK ranked 10th and the USA 21st.
It is “unethical and immoral” to waste resources when hundreds of millions go hungry across the world, said Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, at the launch of the Food Sustainability Index. Last year, global hunger levels rose for the first time in more than a decade. 815 million people, more than one person in ten across the planet, are now going hungry.
France has long been at the forefront of the food waste debate. In 2012, the country launched a law to reduce the levels of organic waste sent to landfill. The French Ministry of Ecology, Energy and Sustainable Development made it compulsory for companies to recycle their organic waste if they produce more than 120 tons of it per year. This amount has since been lowered gradually to include not just supermarkets and agrifood firms but also companies in the hospitality and foodservice sector. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to €75,000.
In 2016 France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from wasting edible food, legislation which has now been emulated in other countries like Denmark and Italy. In the same year, France launched its ‘doggy bag law’, which takes aim at plate waste in restaurants. The law applies to restaurants serving over 150 covers a day, making it compulsory for them to provide a doggy bag or takeaway box if requested by a customer.
The measures are part of a wider drive to halve the amount of food waste in France by 2025. According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20-30 kg of food a year, 7 kg of which is still in its wrapping. The combined national cost of this is €20bn. Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, 67% is thrown away by consumers, 11% by shops, and 15% by restaurants.
Looking ahead to 2018, policymakers in France should continue to support the hospitality sector as it adopts new practices to prevent food waste before it reaches the consumer. In kitchens where food is prepared in advance, around two thirds of avoidable food waste occurs before it gets to the consumer. Data captured by Winnow in hundreds of hotels, staff restaurants, universities, schools and hospitals shows that 5-15% of the food purchased by the kitchen can be wasted because too much is prepared relative to demand.
Working with thousands of chefs worldwide, we have found that overproduction occurs because food waste is notoriously difficult to measure. Kitchens understandably want to ensure that they do not run out of food, and teams are forced to make production decisions in stressful environments with imperfect information. This leads to waste.
Employing digital tools to help chefs can dramatically cut this waste. Leading the pack in France and beyond is AccorHotels, the largest hotel chain in Europe. They have set an ambitious target to cut food waste by 30% by 2020 across their portfolio of brands including Pullman, Sofitel, Novotel and Ibis.
There is no doubt that France is a shining example to other markets where food waste is concerned. As France looks ahead to 2018, policymakers should encourage hospitality businesses to join AccorHotels and set reduction targets which focus primarily on prevention. This is the sweet-spot for businesses to save money, and will help the sector as a whole to reduce its impact and become more sustainable.