5 Steps Hospitality Leaders Should Take to Reduce Food Waste on a Global Scale

Posted by Elena Sokolova / 30-Jan-2023



In the wake of rising food and labour costs and climate change, food waste is a crucial concern in the hospitality sector. Not only is it a major burden on the bottom line of businesses, it also plays a substantial part in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Accurately forecasting produce and stock in advance is a daily challenge for leaders in the hospitality space, one they will have to overcome to meet compliance goals and to become more economical.

Delivering systematic change at scale is challenging, but certainly not impossible. In fact, in late 2022, IKEA, one of the largest organisations in the food service industry, managed to achieve a 50% reduction in waste food across 430 stores. With a strong commitment to change across the organisation, use of the right technology and a dedicated strategy, the Ingka Group (the major franchisee holder of IKEA) has halved their food waste, in partnership with Winnow.

Here are 5 key steps the Ingka Group leadership team took to halve food waste globally, serving as a framework that all hospitality leaders can take to reduce food waste at scale. 

1.Ensure a Global Mandate and Strong Sustainability Commitment 

Before embarking on such a major project, the first vital step is to get buy-in from your senior stakeholders and C-suite.  A global mandate across the business is a necessity, especially when the challenge is enormous in scale.

To be completely invested, the business as a whole must understand and agree with the ‘why?’ and to understand the wins from all points of view. For example, from a marketing team’s point of view - taking on such an ambitious goal shows a genuine drive for sustainability, acting as a key selling point to modern consumers.

Acknowledge the concerns of those that might be more cautious to jump on board.  Change can be difficult, but ultimately reducing food waste leads to significant cost savings, efficiency in kitchens and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The Ingka Group project’s initial success was propelled by the management team having a shared vision and united front.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at IKEA and a part of our DNA. We have set ourselves an ambitious target to cut our food waste by 50% across our operations before the end of August 2020, and our partnership with Winnow is critical to realising that goal”. Hege Sæbjørnsen Country Sustainability Manager IKEA UK & Ireland


2. Develop a Clear Roadmap with Achievable Goals

Cutting 50% of food waste across 430 stores is a monumental achievement, but it couldn’t have been done without a clear target and stellar roadmap.

IKEA established a clear, easy-to-communicate target for each store – 50% reduction of its global food waste baseline by 2022 – and developed a roadmap to achieve it.

With Winnow’s Support and AI technology, the roadmap included elements such as:

  • Conducting a food waste audit, to establish a baseline 
  • Use the baseline as a reference to establish a target and timeline
  • Starting with low-hanging fruits: the food items that are wasted the most 
  • Continued use of food waste data to find less obvious overproduction patterns 
  • Keeping staff engaged to ensure that changes are permanent 

Critically - ensure that targets are appropriate to the size and complexity of the organisation, giving enough time for successful implementation and to hold accountability.  IKEA and Winnow began working in 2015 with just two proofs of concept, growing to the successes experienced last year. In 2017, when IKEA committed to the food waste reduction goal, they announced their goal publicly (Food is Precious campaign) in a bid to further hold themselves accountable.

For businesses that decide to take on the challenge of halving food waste, combining these steps  with quick action and the right strategies - could produce the same results in as little as two years. 


3. Build a Dedicated Project Team


The support and steer of a dedicated project team is crucial for success.

Reducing food waste has a lot of moving parts: training co-workers, measuring KPIs, providing support to kitchens, and escalating issues when necessary, just to name a few. 

To achieve its goals, IKEA mobilised a dedicated project team with Winnow deployment with oversight and authority across the project. Initially this team consisted of two people and then grew to six when Winnow Vision was deployed to 430 stores. This allowed them to more easily understand the nuances of local markets and adapt the reduction project accordingly.  

4. Start small, get it right, scale 

As touched upon earlier, starting with a proof of concept or pilot programme helps  ensure to get the basics right.

IKEA worked closely with Winnow in 2015 to install our technology in two sites in the UK. Not only did this allow the organisation to gain an understanding of the technology’s efficacy, but it allowed the IKEA teams, with Winnow’s support, to develop processes which worked for them and could be scaled.

Start small, iterate, improve, scale.

5. Frontline Staff Engagement

IKEA balanced its top-down approach by giving co-workers the freedom to take necessary actions to reach their store-wide target. In addition to that, it took several initiatives to strengthen buy-in with sites and keep staff engagement high.Kitchen staff work with Winnow technology on a daily basis, iterating change and recognising new efficiency. Giving co-workers more autonomy to make changes using Winnow data was paramount to the success of IKEA’s widespread adoption and reduction. IKEA created an open culture, giving teams the space to explore waste in their operations. This empowered teams and helped them adopt change, further reducing waste.These empowered co-workers had a desire to share their tips and best practices, improving learning across that site. The addition of the dedicated project team celebrated the best of these practices and deployed them across all locations.

Above everything, reducing food waste in your business and beyond, requires dedication and commitment. It’s rapidly becoming a necessity and not simply a nice-to-have. Whether you’re focused on meeting UN goals for global food waste or remaining competitive in increasingly difficult markets, food waste solutions offer a compelling proposition.

Watch how IKEA UK uses Winnow Vision to automate food waste management with Artificial Intelligence.


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