Soraya Gadelrab, portfolio director – food, drink & packaging at Fresh Montgomery, on the organiser’s partnership with charity City Harvest.
As the UK’s largest and longest running food and drink trade event, IFE is considered the place to stay up to date with issues affecting the industry, and to explore solutions which can be implemented into businesses.
In recent years, food waste has become an ever-increasing issue, and one that no food and drink business can ignore.
It’s not a new issue, but it is one that’s increasingly under the spotlight as new legislations are implemented and businesses are constantly challenged to implement best practice in eliminating food waste.
With IFE being at the centre of the industry, we launched Pro2Pac in 2007 to sit alongside IFE, to focus on processing and packaging solutions for the food and drink industry. It therefore made sense to finally close the circle by launching Waste-Works in 2013, ensuring the three events covered the entire food & drink production cycle; from farm to fork, to fertiliser and fuel.
We all know that the exhibition industry, due to its temporary nature, can be very wasteful. For us this is compounded by the fact that we operate in one of the most unnecessarily wasteful sectors out there. According to Warp, the waste and recycling advisory body, in the UK in 2015 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away, of which 4.4m tonnes was deemed to be avoidable waste that was edible at some point before it was put in the bin or food waste caddy.
This seems almost criminal today, when the rise of people using food banks has increased over 40-fold since 2008, according to The Trussell Trust’s latest figures.
With this as a backdrop, and having witnessed the immense volumes of food and drink products binned at the end of shows, as exhibitors don’t want the hassle of taking their products away with them, we at Fresh Montgomery feel it is very much our responsibility to ensure we are leading from the front when it comes to food waste. It’s important for us to demonstrate to the industry how important this issue is and how easily we can begin to turn the tide if we work together.
At IFE 2017 in March, we began a new partnership with City Harvest, a London based charity, which recognises that in one of world’s wealthiest cities hunger is still an acute problem.
The charity collects surplus food from food and drink retail and food service outlets across the capital and distributes this surplus in the form of meals to those in need across the city, in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, after school programs, centres for veterans and organisations that assist people with alcohol or drug addictions.
The collection of surplus food from an exhibition can be a logistical nightmare, and with 1,300 exhibitors showcasing their products at IFE a lot of a planning has to go into this project.
Exhibitors are notified in advance that a collection will take place and strict guidelines are distributed as to what can and cannot be accepted. Essentially we are looking to collect packaged and in-date chilled, ambient and frozen produce, but certain things cannot be accepted such as shellfish, products which are not correctly labelled or packaged and, of course, anything that is out of date.
From the moment the shutters go down at the end of the show, the charity collection becomes the priority for the IFE team. Together with the City Harvest team, they are responsible for sweeping the floor and encouraging exhibitors to donate anything they don’t wish to take with them.
They also collect food from stands and take it to one of the two drop-off points, where other members of the team are responsible for sorting the produce into ambient, chilled, frozen and unacceptable piles.
We work closely with some of our contractors, including Lowe Refrigeration, who store the chilled and frozen produce, and Agility, who help us with packing and moving the produce into the City Harvest vans. It’s a huge logistical feat, and it only works as everyone comes together as a team, understanding what a good cause this is.
At the end of the show, the team are exhausted, having been onsite for five days, but everyone comes together for around three hours until all the food is collected, packed and loaded into the vans – it’s a proud moment when the van doors shut and we know that the food is off to be delivered to those in need.