Andrew Thornton brings heartfulness to The Grocer magazine

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For those of you who have ever worked in the food industry (as I have all my working life) you’ll know The Grocer, which for over 150 years has been our industry’s ‘bible’. Cleverly it arrives in the post (yes the post!) every Saturday morning to be read over your Cornflakes. It was a great honour for me that I was their Guest Editor last week. I got to chair the editorial meeting, help shape the magazine and be right in the heart of discussions on the hot issues of the week.

I realised in so doing that, like every industry, we have a number major issues that if addressed, could help us create a better world. I know from my research on companies that are heartful, caring and focus on people and planet, that this approach is better business and creates more long-term shareholder value than a focus on short-term profits.

Writing the leader on the Sustainable Developments Goals at the UN, I could quickly see two things that our industry could resolve – food waste and sugar.

Right now between 30% and 40% of all food produced in the UK is wasted, with a large percentage of that being at stores and in the home. At the end of every day, food that is about to pass its sell by or best before date is dumped. As such food magically doesn’t go off at midnight, perfectly edible food is chucked away. One supermarket chain made the headlines last year for pouring bleach over this food in their bins to stop homeless people rummaging for something to eat! How crazy is this?

Yet within a couple of miles of pretty much every supermarket in this country there are people who don’t have enough food to eat. At Thornton’s Budgens, after years of getting local charities to pick up our ‘surplus’ food (we don’t call it waste anymore) and then them having issues with a lack of volunteers or transport, we agreed with Centrepoint (a local charity for the homeless) that we would deliver our surplus to them every day provided they agreed to take everything that was edible. It’s not a big cost for us and it means we now never have to through away edible food. Every supermarket in the country could easily do this and start tomorrow.

In fact, from next week we will all be obliged to charge 5p for every carrier bag we give away and donate it to local charities – so why not use this money to distribute your food surplus? Most supermarkets hide behind the so common ‘health and safety’ excuse to do nothing; yet there is always a way forward if there is the will to do it. I am so incensed by the lack of action, yesterday I wrote 16 letters, to the CEO’s of all the leading food retailers. Lets see if any take up the challenge.

Sugar is a more complex, yet even more pressing issue. We have a huge obesity issue in this country, driven by many things including what we eat. While many food companies hide behind phrases like the need for ‘a balanced diet’ and ‘personal choice’, how about we own that we are part of the problem and set out to do something about it.

When I started off my working life at Mars 30 years ago, we had a mainframe computer that we all used before we got our first PC’s (yes I am that old). Today, my iPhone has more computing power than that mainframe had – what extraordinary innovation. Look at what Airbnb are doing for the travel business (utilising under used resources instead of building more new hotel rooms) and what Tesla are doing with battery technology (allowing renewal energy to be much better harnessed). Surely, it is not beyond the collective brains of the food industry to innovate our way out of this?

Can I ask you to consider your industry and ask what are your ‘no-brainers’ for a better world and do something about it? For me, that’s what running a business with a heart is all about. And, as I keep repeating, it IS good business and will help ensure your company has a long-term thriving future.

Photographs by Andrew Porterw Thornton-39 The Grocer_Andrew Thornton-40 The Grocer_Andrew Thornton-41 The Grocer_Andrew Thornton-44