| 17.06.2021

Doctoral thesis: Preventing food waste requires new and improved distribution channels

New research shows that more transparency is needed around where, and how much, surplus food the food industry is generating, so that surplus food can be better utilised.

In her PhD dissertation "Supply chain structures promoting development of sustainable supply chains: the case of surplus food recovery", Caroline Sundgren has looked at ways to promote sustainable development by studying food waste. Food waste includes both edible and non-edible food, such as organic waste, whereas surplus food refers to edible food.

According to Sundgren, there are major differences between how companies manage their surplus food. Some companies do not like to talk about their food waste, while others are more aware of, for instance, the UN's goal of halving food waste by 2030, and are taking active steps to reduce their food waste.

"The different levels of the food waste hierarchy, namely food waste and loss prevention, redistributing surplus food, using food as animal feed, biogas production, composting and energy recovery, could be applied even better. For instance, surplus food is converted to biogas instead of being redistributed to people," says Sundgren.

Surplus food occurs sporadically and unplanned, which makes recovery more difficult, since companies do not know the volume or type of product beforehand. It is important to have alternative sales channels and charities that can help redistribute surplus food, and perishable products in particular need to reach new consumers fast.

"The alternative sales channels are run by new players who can present an interesting solution for companies, for whom surplus foodstuffs otherwise are a liability. My results show that a centralized distribution chain works well for foods with a longer shelf life, while a decentralized chain would be more desirable for fresh products, and here, there is room for improvement. The alternative distribution channels have a smaller range of products, but their consumers are often interested in cheap bargains and/or are environmentally conscious," Sundgren points out.

As for donations to charities, companies currently tend to be somewhat sceptical of the work charities do, so companies donate surplus food on the companies' own terms.

"Even though companies should primarily be making efforts to prevent food waste and surplus food from occurring, they could also become better at taking advantage of, and increasing their cooperation with, players outside the usual chain of distribution, to promote cicularity," says Sundgren.

You can read the whole thesis here.

The doctoral defence will be held by video conference.
Access the video conference via Teams here. The link will be active on 21 June 2021 at 12 noon.

Caroline Sundgren will be defending her dissertation ”Supply chain structures promoting development of sustainable supply chains: the case of surplus food recovery” at 12 noon on Monday 21 June 2021. The subject is supply chain management and social responsibility.
Opponent: Jakob Rehme, Linköping University
Custos: David Grant, Hanken School of Economics