“Optimal use of our raw materials now sets us apart”

Lamb Weston is the second-largest producer of frozen potato products in the world. The European joint venture Lamb Weston / Meijer is already using 7% more of its potatoes than in 2008 and it wants to reduce waste even further.

Lamb Weston / Meijer (LWM) processes 1.5 billion kilograms of potatoes per year in its six factories, to manufacture frozen, pre-fried chips, potato specialty products and dried potato flakes. LWM has been one of McDonald’s preferred suppliers of its widely known fries for over 20 years.

Working with McDonald’s helped inspire Jolanda Soons-Dings, Sustainability Program Leader at LWM, to start developing a sustainability program for her company in 2010. “McDonald’s demands high standards from its suppliers in terms of food safety, consistent quality and the origin of the raw materials,” says Soons. “It’s a leader of sustainability in its supply chain.

“That’s how I became interested in making our own supply chain more sustainable. Eventually, our board of directors drafted our own sustainability strategy and policy. It’s become a key component of our ambition, business strategy and business operations. Optimal use of our raw materials now sets us apart.”

“Optimal use of our raw materials now sets us apart”

- Jolanda Soons-Dings, Lamb Weston / Meijer

Measuring and managing

One of the key themes in LWM’s sustainability policy is ‘Potato & Waste’. Soons explains: “Of the 1.5 billion kilograms of potatoes delivered to our European plants each year, we process roughly 800 million kilograms into finished products. We carefully measure all incoming and outgoing volumes, as this determines our business revenue to a large extent. As they say, ‘what gets measured gets managed’.

“About 4% of the total volume we receive consists of soil and small stones, an unavoidable loss. A further quarter is lost by evaporation during processing, particularly during drying and pre-frying, because the average potato contains around 82% water. We also have 350 million kilograms of potato peels and other waste flows per year. The majority of that, roughly 250 million kilograms, is used locally as animal feed.”

Using the whole potato

LWM conducted a ‘loss and waste study’ in 2013 to better understand what was lost in the process from field to fork, and where there were improvement opportunities. “Our philosophy is that we can achieve the largest environmental benefit by improving the efficiency of utilizing our raw materials. So preventing waste is our highest priority,” says Soons.

“In 2011 we set ourselves an ambitious target: to use 10% more of our potatoes by 2020 than we did in 2008. We’ve already increased it by 7%. That means we not only use 7% fewer potatoes, but also less land, water and energy to produce the same amount of finished products. Our product carbon footprint has dropped by 20% over the past 10 years.”

New revenue models

In order to meet the 2020 target, LWM decided to appoint a By-product Valorization Manager to develop a strategy for value creation of by-products and link them to new revenue models.

Soons gives an example: “Steam peels that end up as feed contain high-quality nutrients, like proteins and sugars. We collaborated with Wageningen University & Research to see whether we could extract these nutrients profitably and turn them into another food product. We are also researching whether we can develop a new potato specialty with the bits of potato that are too short to be used as fries. At the moment, these end up in animal feed.”

“Sustainability is a key component of our business operations”

- Jolanda Soons-Dings, Lamb Weston / Meijer

Healthy soil for a healthy future

LWM is adding a new core theme to its sustainability strategy this year: sustainable agriculture.. “We have developed a plan for sustainable agriculture which will ultimately involve all of our 700 growers across Europe in the course of the next three years. The plan contains qualitative and quantitative goals for soil health, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, plant protection products and biodiversity. The objective is to secure the long-term supply of potatoes. We use a methodology to monitor soil health and are going to track individual progress, which helps to motivate our growers to work on the health of their soil.”

Tips for other companies

To combat food waste outside of its own chain, Lamb Weston / Meijer is part of Wageningen University’s Taskforce Circular Economy in Food. The taskforce brings Dutch companies, other organizations, scientists, authorities and consumers together to halve food waste, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, across the entire chain by 2030.

Reducing waste saves costs and can even make money. But it requires investment first. Soons has the following advice. “To convince management that it makes sense to invest in reducing waste, you have to find the ‘sweet spot’ where strategy, focus and financial revenue coincide. It is worth developing a deep understanding and total overview of your food loss and waste.

“Draw up a mass balance and show where the cost savings are. Determine your biggest opportunities to earn back these investments and what you can use to make a positive distinction in the value chain. Then test these opportunities rather like a business-case – what do I have to do and what will it bring me? That can really be an eye-opener.”