The UK’s biggest grocery chain said the plan followed a “farm to fork” commitment to tackle food waste from its suppliers, through stores and into customers’ homes.
The retailer’s latest figures show 55,400 tonnes of food were thrown away at its stores and distribution centres in the UK last year, of which around 30,000 tonnes could otherwise have been eaten - equivalent to around 70 million meals.
The plan is a nationwide roll-out of a 14-store pilot called the Community Food Connection, which over the last six months has generated more than 22 tonnes of food, the equivalent of 50,000 meals.
It operates by using a digital open platform called FareShare FoodCloud that allows store staff and charities to liaise to distribute surplus food.
It launches in 15 cities and regions this week, including Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton and Portsmouth, and will cover all stores by the end of 2017.
Tesco and FareShare are appealing for 5,000 charities and community groups to join up and receive the food.
Tesco is also calling on other retailers to adopt FareShare FoodCloud to create an industry-wide platform.
The initiative also includes the launch of a new “Perfectly Imperfect” range of so-called wonky vegetables that previously may have been thrown away and will be on sale at low prices, in line with several other grocers.
Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis said: “We believe no food that could be eaten should be wasted. That’s why we have committed that no surplus food should go to waste from our stores.
“We know it’s an issue our customers really care about, and wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need.
“But we know the challenge is bigger than this and that’s why we’ve made a farm to fork commitment to reduce food waste upstream with our suppliers and in our own operations and downstream in our customers’ own homes.”
FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell said: “We are delighted to be offering our store level solution in partnership with Tesco who are demonstrating real leadership in tackling food surplus.
“FareShare FoodCloud is a natural extension of our work together which has already provided nine million meals to help feed vulnerable people.”
Mr Lewis said that the issue of food waste was one he felt personally strong about.
He said: “I had an experience when I first came to the business of working in a store and seeing that despite our best efforts to match supply with demand, at the end of the evening there was food that was officially outside of its date code that couldn’t go back on to the shelf and the only option was to look at ways of disposing of it and to stand there and see that food wasted has a personal impact.”
Ms Boswell said: “Between now and November, 1,000 Tesco stores will be connecting and redistributing their surplus food with 5,000 charities.
“That gives us a real growth plan on which we can not only engage with more charities but we can get the food industry to be doing a real step-change in thinking and culture.
“FoodShare believe that no good food should go to waste and dealing with food that is wasted on an individual supermarket level in addition to the huge volumes of food that are wasted in the supply chain is really important.
“If we scale this up as we intend to do, by the end of the year all Tesco stores will be redistributing 70 million meals - that’s more than enough to feed the entire population of these islands.”
Karen Ward, of the Society of St James, said donations from supermarkets such as Tesco were crucial for their work in providing meals for homeless and vulnerable people.
She said: “It’s essential, we reach out to 3,000 people across Hampshire and we work hard to those more vulnerable in society have the opportunity of a healthy and nutritional meal.”