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Conversation of Change with Kené Umeasiegbu



“To make a big difference in the world, you need to address what you do every day.” said Kené Umeasiegbu, Campaigns Director of Tesco.


Tesco is one of the world's largest retailers of consumer goods. ‘Every little help makes a big difference’ is their value which underpins their approach to sustainability. In fact, he shares how they were the first business in the world to set themselves the target of becoming “zero carbon” back in 2009.


Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said, “In this critical decade for tackling climate change, it’s vital we challenge ourselves to be more ambitious in our aims and accelerate progress against them. At Tesco, we’re playing our part by creating a better basket for our customers and the planet.


“No one business can tackle these challenges alone. We must take collective action as a food industry to drive the transformational changes necessary to meet the UK’s climate commitments.”


TESCO’S PARTNERSHIP WITH WWF


Since 2018, a notable partnership Tesco has is with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Despite being very different organisations, they share a common ambition to make affordable, healthy, sustainable food available to everyone.


The Tesco-WWF Sustainable Basket Metric has the goal of halving the environmental impact of an average shopping basket. “It is a great opportunity to bring about change.”


They want to track the entire ‘food value chain’ from production (farming, fishing) to delivery (transportation, packaging) to consumption (waste and dietary choice). “We thought if we could cut the environmental impact of the shopping basket by 50% that it would take us a long way to achieving the goals we had.”


“We think that by working together, we might be able to help contribute to the transition that needs to happen,” he said. “WWF, with their reputation, insights, experience and trust they have with the public; and Tesco, with the agency and proximity to the public in the UK.”


They’ve been conducting research and it shows in their Living Planet Report how wildlife populations have fallen by 60% in the last 50 years. WWF states that the single biggest reason for such a decline is the global food system.


“WWF feels that to get to a greener world, they need to work with food businesses. So, in the UK, they’ve come to us as one of the biggest food producers, to work with us to address this challenge by paying attention to the three-pronged approach.”


The first is ‘restoring nature in food production’ where they believe it’s possible to produce food that protects the natural resources it depends on. They plan to eliminate deforestation from imported products like soy, cattle and to reach a 100% sustainable seafood range.


The second is helping everyone to eat more sustainably and the third is cutting down on waste. Unnecessary packaging and plastic waste is continuously putting pressure on nature and choking marine life. Nearly a third of food produced never makes it to the table; and UK households throw away an average of £470 (estimated SG$881) of perfectly good food every year.


WHY IS THERE FOOD WASTE?


“Sometimes the food waste is caused inadvertently by retailers without meaning to. For instance, we might get a promotion to encourage people to eat more vegetables and we say ‘you buy one, you get one free’. That might encourage people to take more vegetables than they need and when they get home they find they never get round to eating it, it just sits in the fridge and wilts or ends up being thrown in the bin.” explains Kené.


“The other thing is the Best By date. You put a date on the back of a produce product and say if you eat it by this date it’s in its best shape. Most people treat it almost as law, to say that if, for instance, it’s one hour after the date, they put it in the bin. But actually that food is still completely okay to eat.”


They’ve since removed a lot of those dates that confused the public and emphasised people should trust their common sense.


REDUCING FOOD WASTE AT HOME


“About one-third of all the food produced in the world goes to waste and that's not acceptable in a world where billions of people still go to bed hungry.” said Kené.


“In the UK, over 70% of food waste happens at home. And that's a picture that we see in most developed economies where food is not a significant part of the person's income.”


To tackle this, Tesco has been raising awareness with their own customers. Their ‘No Time for Waste Challenge’ was part of a six-week pilot programme that supported 53 diverse households. What they did created significant shifts in household behaviour and a month after it ended, almost all of their participants said they were wasting less food than before.


According to Kené they saw “dramatic improvements” in household food waste and they plan to take what they learnt to roll out a bigger programme to help more customers across the UK.


“Before you go to shop for produce products in our stores, check your kitchen, check what you have already. If you have some tomatoes from last week, don't buy another one because then it might go to waste.


“And the other thing we try to encourage them to do, is to think about how they store this product when they get it. We tell them which one goes in the fridge, which is in the freezer, which one goes in the cupboard. Then the other thing we try to educate them is on how to make exciting new meals using leftovers from last night.”


DONATING TO THOSE IN NEED


“Instead of letting food waste, why not give it to those who need it?”


Kené elaborates that they have two initiatives involving food donation. One is their Food Collection drive, inviting their customers to donate long-life products like tins of tomatoes and beans.


The second is when Tesco donates the surplus of products not sold to customers. They work with organisations like FareShare, which redistributes surplus food to charities and they turn it into meals.


“Whether it’s a women’s shelter or drug rehabilitation programmes or children in deprived communities, those community groups come to take the surplus food that we couldn’t sell in our stores but they’re still perfectly edible and safe to eat.”


Even during the pandemic when customers would panic buy, he asserts that Tesco “made sure the charities had the resources and food they needed to look after the community groups”.


Kené said he was personally most proud of how Tesco acted to those who were vulnerable during the pandemic.


“We were very proud to play the role of making sure that they weren’t forgotten,” he conveyed. “We served them by taking food to them whether they were traditional Tesco customers or weren’t. We wanted to make sure that we’re all in this together.


“People found it a great lifeline, at the time they were struggling the most.”


Listen to the Conversation of Change podcast





TIMESTAMPS


Timestamps for Conversation of Change interview with Kené Umeasiegbu


00.00 Introduction to Conversation Of Change and Make The Change


00.32 Introduction to Kené Umeasiegbu, Campaigns Director of Tesco


01.14 Kené Umeasiegbu’s background


02.04 Tesco’s Little Helps Plan and how it helps to tackle social and environmental challenges


03.25 Kené talks about the four pillars of the Little Helps Plan: People, Product, Planet, Places


05.44 Tesco’s partnership with World Wide Fund (WWF). It’s helped customers eat more sustainably and how it has helped restore nature in food production


09.54 Tesco’s efforts during the pandemic and The Tesco Food Collections event


14.15 Kené shares/elaborates that they have two initiatives involving food donation.

One where Tesco donates the surplus of products not sold to customers and about their customers donating to The Tesco Food Collections event


16.56 Tesco’s No Time for Waste Challenge has helped families across Britain save money by reducing food waste.


22.40 Tesco is the first UK retailer to commit to publishing the sales of plant-based proteins and switching to run the entire business on green energy by 2030.


Kené shares some upcoming projects that will continue to aid sustainability and his vision for the future


27.45 Closing remarks