Editorials

With more than 10 million tonnes of food wasted yearly – Is it time for Transformational Change?

At the time of writing we are fast approaching another New Year, but by the time you receive your copy in February, some New Year resolutions will already have fallen by the wayside and ‘subject normal’ will be back in control.

The old comfort zone is often seen as the biggest obstacle to change. If lasting beneficial change was easy, then so many wouldn’t be so willing to revert when they hit the early obstacles. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is getting out of the comfort zone. Even when we know that what we are doing, or the way we are doing it, may not achieve optimal outcomes, ‘we have always done it this way and are comfortable with it’. Summed up in the saying:

If you want something you’ve never had,
then
you have to do something you’ve never done’

For those who do stick with it, and carry on pushing through the comfort zone, they can still lose their way in the fear zone, as there will be no shortage of doom-mongers quick to point out ‘you are wasting your time’ or ‘I knew that wouldn’t work’.

But, the good news is that carrying on regardless of the setbacks and surrounding negativity can lead to the learning zone, where we can find new and better ways of doing things.

Done with persistence and commitment, we eventually get to the ‘growth zone’. We have now left the comfort zone far behind and our valued people are starting to get used to, and even look forward to, more beneficial change where their jobs become easier and more rewarding. They realise that their suggestions are listened to and often put into practice to become part of the new established way of doing things. The highly prized cultural change is finally working!

If you have read this far, you might be thinking ‘Why?’ ‘How does this help my business?’

Recent Research Study

A recent study has found that human errors caused by a lack of standardised procedures and insufficient training are the major drivers of food waste in the manufacturing process.

Research teams at Brunel and Ghent Universities studied the production processes of 47 food manufacturers in Belgium (it is worth mentioning that Belgium has one of the highest minimum wage laws in the EU). [Link]

The researchers gathered data from a large variety of companies, ranging from ready meal to drinks manufacturers. On average, they found that the manufacturers lost 1 tonne of food for every 35 tonnes produced.

Of this waste, they found that human error accounted for 10.9% of all food waste, whilst an additional 13% of waste was attributed to product changeovers. A further 8.7% of waste was caused by product defects and a further 6.4% of waste, as a consequence of buyer contracts.

One of the most interesting findings, said the researchers, was just how unaware many manufacturers were of how much food they were wasting. Dr Manoj Dora of Brunel Business School said “We were amazed to see how some companies didn’t actually measure how much they were throwing away and were consequently surprised at the cost of just how much they were losing because of their food loss”

The study was released as the UK government appoints its first food surplus and waste champion in a move to reduce the estimated 10.2 million tonnes of food wasted annually within the UK.

“Good collaboration, appropriate measurement systems and the implementation of Lean Management tools in the production process, can significantly reduce food wastage” claims Dr Dora.

We agree totally with Dr Dora’s findings but would add Six Sigma to the mix. Lean tools take companies so far, but Lean Six Sigma achieves more especially with the well-proven reductions in variation that come with the successful implementation of Six Sigma. Wherever there is excessive variation there will be high levels of waste.

I know some companies have already announced this year that they are going all out for zero waste, but for this to become any more than just a popular catchphrase, the phases we mentioned earlier will have to be gone through again and again, until the workforce questions everything they do and the way that they do it, in search of better processes, procedures and outcomes.

For us, as system manufacturers, integrators and often pro bono consultants, this is, without doubt, the most exciting phase, mainly because the companies with whom we work recognise that the low hanging fruit (quick wins) has already been picked and for future savings, they must look more widely, deeply and far more analytically than ever before. Though smaller wins may now become commonplace, enough of them can still have a huge cumulative impact upon the bottom line.

Some areas where yesterday’s good may not be good enough for today
  • Effective utilisation of raw materials
  • Effective weight control of pre-packaged goods
  • Elimination of rejects, rework and scrap through an ethos of Right First Time
  • Automated Coding and labelling compliance
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)
  • Optimised Labour utilisation
  • Short interval control (splitting the production shift into manageable hourly metrics)

What makes the conversion process so complex for many manufacturers is the increasing variety of products within their portfolio, the number of retailers that they supply (packaging and possibly recipe variations), short lead times and short batch runs, depot delivery days and tightly enforced time slots, varying product shelf lives, etc. etc.

The good news is that during 2018, we saw a much greater willingness to embrace beneficial change, rather than the excuses and push-back that we have seen for decades previously. If this new enthusiasm for change continues and even gathers momentum, then we see no reason why 2019 and beyond should not see UK Food and Drink Manufacturers ranking amongst the most competitive in the world, even though we pay some of the highest labour rates in Europe.

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