Food Cultures To Tackle Food Waste

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Dairies in China, Indonesia and many other markets are increasingly turning to the power of food cultures as an additional quality hurdle to protect their brand and reduce waste. By Peter Thoeysen, Director, Dairy Bioprotection, Chr. Hansen.


Why is reducing food waste particularly important in Asia?

Food wastage is a global problem and a challenge in Asia, particularly in the more developed economies in the region. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), approximately 11 kg of food per capita per year is wasted in developing Asian countries, while an estimated 80 kg of food per capita per year is wasted in developed Asian countries. Further, between 15 and 50 percent of fruits and 12-30 percent of grains are lost between the producer and the market.

According to Singapore’s National Environment Agency’s report in January this year, food waste in the country has risen 40 percent over the past 10 years, from 568,000 tonnes disposed of by households and the food industry in 2008, to around 809,800 tonnes in 2017. This made up 23 percent of total waste disposed of in Singapore in 2017, with only 16 percent recycled. In China, the food service industry alone is wasting 17-18 million tonnes of food every year, which is enough to feed 30-50 million people.

The rapid urbanisation in Asia will likely see about 550 million people move to cities in Asia by 2030, according to a report by Temasek in 2018. The resulting reduction in arable land means that there is tremendous pressure on the food system. There is an urgency to decrease food loss and reduce food waste.

It is fantastic to note that the governments in Asia are quick to note and respond to this issue and has initiated programs within their countries to create greater awareness and drive home the message on food waste.  What is even more heartening is how the government agencies are partnering with businesses to spread the message.

We notice that this is gaining greater attention among food manufacturers as the issue relates to the cost of their businesses. Having sustainable solutions would mean lesser wastage and thus, reduced costs.


What was the motivation behind the R&D for Chr. Hansen’s range of bioprotective products?

There two very prime factors: one is the drive to reduce food wastage, the other is food safety.

If you think about it, up to one-third of all food is wasted according to the FAO (2012). Just 25 percent of this food would be enough to feed the more than 800 million people who currently suffer from hunger and malnutrition (FAO, 2016). A significant portion of that lost or wasted food ends up in landfills or incinerated, leading to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change. Food waste, it is estimated, contributes to roughly 4.4 gigatons of GHG emissions annually. FAO’s analysis shows that if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of GHGs—surpassed only by the United States and China.

At Chr. Hansen, we published our commitment to sustainability in 1949. Today, sustainability is at the core of our Corporate Strategy 2022, called “Nature’s No. 1—Sustainably”.  The strategy focuses on delivering solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as enabling a more sustainable agriculture with fewer pesticides and antibiotics, reducing food waste and supporting global health through well-documented probiotics.

Dairy products are a growing business in Asia. According to the global dairy consumption report from Eucolait, Asia represents the fastest growing region in dairy product consumption. The yoghurt segment is projected to witness the fastest CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate), according to Future Insight. Asia Pacific is a big future market for fermented dairy products. This growing consumption of milk and milk products is creating significant growth opportunities for dairy product manufacturers who are now incorporating additional value to their products using natural food ingredients like dairy cultures.

Characterised by high turnover, fragile supply chains and relatively short shelf-lives, the consumption of dairy products in developed markets is a significant contributor to global food waste and losses. In fact, up to 20 percent of all dairy is wasted every year globally (FAO).

To help the dairy sector maintain the freshness of food products, such as yoghurt and cheese, Chr. Hansen has introduced food cultures with bioprotective effect. These cultures are selected for their ability to delay spoilage from contaminants such as yeast and mould. Using nature’s own good bacteria to extend shelf-life can reduce food waste without compromising consumer demand for real food with less artificial ingredients.

For food safety, we have developed our SafePro range to prevent the growth of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat meat and prepared foods.

The term “good bacteria” is now commonplace among consumers but how could food manufacturers benefit from it?

There is an increased understanding of the power of good bacteria and the impact it can have on some of the major challenges facing our modern world, such as food waste and the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides. Building on 145 years of research in microbial science, and recognition by Corporate Knights as the most sustainable company in the world, Chr. Hansen is uniquely positioned to address these challenges and raise more awareness of what we consider to be ‘the era of good bacteria’.

The fight against food waste could also be a business opportunity. The 2018 Innova Market Insights show that mindful eating is on the rise amongst Asian consumers.  Over 80 percent of Chinese consumers prefer food and beverages products that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

In a consumer study Chr. Hansen explored the consequence of increasing shelf life in yoghurts using good bacteria like FreshQ food cultures. The results:

  • When tasting the yoghurts at the end of the best before dating, consumers liked the one-week older yoghurt just as much as the one with the standard shelf-life.
  • More consumers wanted to buy the yoghurt with longer shelf life compared to the standard, when they were told that shelf life had been increased naturally to help reduce food waste.

Giving consumers the ability to make an actual decision to avoid food waste in yoghurt is a hidden opportunity for yoghurt brands to connect with concerned and influential consumers.

With consumers globally demanding better food without artificial ingredients, there is much attention by food manufacturers on how natural good bacteria and the ancient practice of fermentation can help deliver this and improve shelf life at the same time.


What are some examples of successful food waste reduction initiatives Chr. Hansen’s products have made possible?

Our solutions for fermented dairy products like yoghurt are helping food manufacturers, retailers and consumers to save food waste in more than one way. Through shelf-life extension, quality improvement and increasing robustness.

First and foremost, the ability to help extend shelf-life and thereby expand the expiry or best before date has a huge impact. An impact study in Europe showed that 80 percent of all the yoghurt waste was directly linked to the date. Yoghurts expire along the value chain and on supermarket shelves, thus being thrown into trashcans by consumers simply looking at the date.

At the consumer level, half of what was wasted, was even thrown out unopened. Therefore, extending the printed shelf-life has a huge direct impact on food waste reduction and can save large costs for all involved parties. The study showed that even with a modest 7-day extension, it would be possible to save 30 percent of yoghurt waste.

We see customers in several markets now pioneering these initiatives and combining shelf-life extension with consumer awareness and education campaigns on the meaning of “best before” versus “use by” date marking. They highlight the fact that fermented dairy products shouldn’t be wasted without first evaluating whether they are spoiled or not, even if they are beyond the best before date. With date marking saying “best before—but often good after”, they are highlighting that their products are of good quality and often can be consumed without any issues all the way up to the last day of best before and beyond. It is going to be exciting to follow this and see the impact on food waste reduction after the first two years in the market place.

But our good bacteria also save waste within existing shelf-life. Yeast and mould spoilage are the most common spoilage issues in fermented milk. It is a natural part of food production and can never be completely avoided. Contamination levels are never constant, and peaks of contamination can happen for several reasons. For example, dairies can see increased levels of yeast and mould contaminations in parts of the year where it is very humid and warm outside—conditions that make these bad microorganisms strive. Or sometimes, using specific fruit preps make dairy more subject to spoilage.

FreshQ cultures help make these spoilage organisms grow slower, thereby improving quality and enabling shelf-life extension. As such, this is an additional quality hurdle that dairies can add to their quality assurance system, without compromising consumer demand for food without artificial ingredients. To help protect the good quality of their products on those bad days, when a peak of contamination happens and products spoil before the end of shelf-life. Packages blowing in supermarkets or consumers experiencing smelly yeast or hairy moulds when opening a yoghurt is not only bad for the trust in a food brand but is also causes waste. Dairies in China, Indonesia and many other markets are increasingly turning to the power of food cultures as an additional quality hurdle to protect their brand and reduce waste.

While helping our customers with these challenges, we are glad to share that we, together, have made progress on the long-term targets on the UN Global Goals. To the goal of reducing food waste, we have set target in 2016 to reduce 1.2 million tonnes of yoghurt waste by 2022, and as of April this year, we have achieved about 40 percent or about 480,000 tonnes.


Further reading:
Small Steps For APAC’s Food Industry, Big Steps For Humanity
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