Business Action on Supply Chain Food Loss & Waste

Global food companies have questions about food loss and waste; Sustainable Food Lab and Wageningen University & Research want to help them get answers. Through a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, we are engaging a number of companies to learn more about the potential for increasing efficiencies in smallholder supply chains by reducing food loss and waste. With a small number of companies, we are conducting pilots to test an approach to measuring loss in smallholder chains in order to understand the most effective ways to reducing loss and waste.

We recently engaged more than 40 multinational food companies – the world’s leading input providers, traders, processors, CPG companies, and retailers – in conversations to understand how they think about food loss and waste (FLW). Our dialogue with global food companies suggests some key questions around supply chain FLW that need answers:

  • When is measurement of FLW necessary? What does a lean approach to FLW assessment look like?
  • How can FLW reduction contribute to commercial and sustainability goals?
  • What lessons are companies learning about reducing FLW, particularly in smallholder value chains?

Our global conversation showed that we need smarter ways to engage on this important topic. The pilots being done by the Food Lab and Wageningen are designed to test a measurement protocol practically with leading multi-national food and beverage companies.


Sustainable Food Lab and Wageningen University & Research learning pilots will help companies address FLW, targeting the hotspots in the supply chain where the issue is most significant. Pilots under way are with a number of different companies from retail to aggregators to processors in Nigeria and Kenya.

HIGHLIGHT: Olam | Rice | Nigeria

Olam recently introduced “Waste” as a new Material Area for the company. Alongside optimizing natural resource utilization, especially as biomass by-products are available in large quantities, and, by engaging actively in reducing operational waste applying a waste hierarchy to recover and re-use whenever possible, Olam is committed to minimize crop and product losses to improve food availability and reduce emissions globally.

Olam recognizes that rice is a large emitter of methane, yet, it is a critical food staple. See this recent press release from the company outlining recommendations to improve the sustainability of rice worldwide.

Olam sees the reduction of FLW as an opportunity to correct supply chain inefficiencies and put resources such as water and agri inputs to good use or at least to the use they were intended for: production for consumption. They also see FLW reduction as an opportunity for smallholder farmers to increase their return on investment, with the ability to sell larger volumes. Applying a measurement protocol developed in the context of the pilot on rice with Olam in Nigeria will give an indication of the losses that are occurring in their rice value chain which will later inform the solutions. It will also help develop key ways to make this measurement protocol scalable and credible.

Learn more about the project from Olam’s recent presentation at the WBCSD’s Annual General Meeting.

Learnings gathered from the Olam pilot and others will be presented in 2019 to advance our global understanding of this complex issue and share some of the simple and practical steps that can be taken to address it.


Most major food companies are committed to reducing FLW. They are committed through fora like Champions 12.3, the Consumer Goods Forum or the Global Agribusiness Alliance and are making great strides in their own operations via public commitments to zero waste or very significant reductions.  Companies with smallholder farmers in their supply chains have less visibility over the losses that are  occurring in these chains and would like to know how to engage meaningfully.

Major food companies are also committed to sustainability. While the nature of their strategy depends on the company’s positioning in the value chain and their level of ambition, the cornerstones are environmental, social and economic. These cornerstones are an entry point into useful conversations about FLW and how addressing inefficiencies can help a company make progress towards broader sustainability goals.

Most major food companies are working hard to measure and report on their sustainability strategy.  Companies are tracking activities that relate to their strategic agenda, in accordance with industry-specific standards. Some are measuring their business footprint, while others focus on improving nutrition in their supply chain or boosting producer income.

When companies see FLW reductions contributing to publicly shared targets and commitments, such as the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it will make business-sense to act on FLW to achieve wider goals.

For more information about our research contact Emily Shipman or visit our Food Loss & Waste project page.

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