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Retailers’ role in ending food waste

New WRAP guidance advises dropping ‘Best Before’ dates from some fresh produce, and selling more products loose
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Retailers’ role in ending food waste

Sustainability body WRAP has today (05 November) published its latest Retail Survey, indicating to what extent the UK’s largest grocery retailers and major brands have made progress implementing best-practice guidance on date labels, product life, pack size and storage/freezing advice.

The changes recommended by WRAP could help reduce the UK’s annual food waste bill, including binned fruit and vegetables worth nearly £4 billion.

2k products examined

WRAP visited nearly 60 supermarkets and examined 2,000 food products – representing those most frequently wasted in our homes.

The research found that a quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carries no date label, while the available shelf life of other products, such as milk, has increased.

For the first time, each retailer has received a detailed assessment of its own performance, including where improvements are required, which is summarised in the Retail Survey.

‘The way food and drink is packaged, labelled and priced can influence household food waste, and retailers and brands are uniquely placed to help minimise food waste in the home. Our research shows that people want clear, consistent information on pack to help them keep food fresher for longer. Overall, we’ve seen good progress from all, but we have also been very clear with each company where more work is required, and where they are falling short.’

Director at WRAP

The results are accompanied by new guidance for the sector for fresh, uncut fruit and vegetables, produced by WRAP, the Food Standards Agency and Defra, and expected to significantly reduce the UK’s annual food waste bill.

The guidance will help retailers identify where more fresh produce can be sold loose, and reduce the application of Best Before dates on some pre-packed fresh produce, where it can help reduce food waste at home.

Successes for retailers

For milk, an increase in 1.5 days of available shelf life was noted, which is great as an extra day alone could help reduce household milk waste by more than 20,000 tonnes per year.

The survey found that a quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carries no date label, which aligns to the updated guidance. Three retailers have removed Best Before dates from some fresh produce, with another committing to remove these labels from selected produce.

Almost all products had correct home storage advice and WRAP’s Little Blue Fridge logo has increased in prominence. This indicates when foods, such as apples, stay fresher for longer when refrigerated at home.

Eight retailers are committed to reviewing or amending storage temperature advice of ‘under 5ºC’ to products. This is excellent, as it helps prompt people to check the temperature of their fridge; keeping fridges at the right temperature keeps food safe and fresher for longer.

The use of the snowflake logo has risen from 15% to nearly 50%. The number of bread items now carrying the snowflake has doubled to 79%. This is good news as freezing is a key way to extend the life of bread items and reduce the likelihood of it being wasted.

Where more action is needed

Little evidence was found of retailers having implemented guidance to remove open life statements except where food safety is an issue. For example, for hard cheese the average available life for a block of cheddar was 64 days, but 90% of packs carried advice to use within 5 or 7 days of opening. Nine retailers are now reviewing or amending open life on yoghurts and cheese.

Bagged salads typically have a very conservative Open Life of just one day and more could potentially extend this.

More than 70% of fresh potatoes carry a Best Before label and the average available product life has decreased by around one day (to four days). More than 10% of 2.5kg bagged white potatoes, when surveyed, had less than two days’ available product life.

There are some instances of good availability of smaller pack sizes – for example for dairy and meat items. However, while small packs of bread (400g loaves) were found in two-thirds of stores, they were on average 74% more expensive per kg than 800g loaves.

WRAP wants to see an end to the phrase ‘Freeze on Day of Purchase’. This can lead people to throw away good food, instead of freezing it up until the date mark. Three retailers have completely removed this and eight more are removing the remaining few products with this statement.

Changes to fresh produce

WRAP has also updated its guidance on applying date labels and packaging choices for fresh produce, the most wasted food category in the home.

Having a range of pack sizes and formats can help to reduce food waste; offering fresh produce loose allows customers to purchase the correct amount for their needs.

Where fresh produce is packaged, the absence of a Best Before date – on some items – can also help to reduce waste by encouraging people to use their judgement more.

‘Public concern has grown over plastic packaging since our last survey, particularly around fresh produce, and we have updated our guide to address single-use, problematic plastics in this category. Removal of packaging must be done carefully to avoid food waste, and we now we have a clear set of principles that will help limit plastic use, and ensure removal is done in a safe and sustainable way. The other significant development we recommend is removing Best Before dates from uncut fresh produce where this doesn’t risk increasing food waste, and the guidance helps this decision-making. We see this being particularly useful for commonly wasted items like potatoes.’

Director at WRAP

Fresh produce trial

WRAP has developed decision-making tools and guidance for retailers to encourage both actions, and published a case study on a fresh produce trial undertaken at a Morrisons store in North Yorkshire.

The trial involved increasing the number of fresh produce lines sold loose and found that people shopped more often, for smaller quantities of fresh produce, which could be particularly beneficial for high-waste produce such as potatoes.

An evaluation of the trial found most people preferred buying fresh produce loose, because they could choose the size and condition, buy the exact quantity required and because it didn’t have plastic packaging.

A small group of customers preferred plastic packaging for convenience and hygiene reasons. Following the successful 10-month trial, Morrisons plans to roll out the initiative to 60 stores by the end of 2019.

Removing Best Before dates

Research also shows that the presence of a date label, of any type, influences behaviour and makes people more likely to discard food once the date has passed.

While there is no legal requirement for fresh, uncut fruit and vegetables to have a date label, using a Best Before date on some short-life products with limited time for consumption in the home can help to prevent fresh produce waste.

However, WRAP recommends removing Best Before dates from fresh produce, where appropriate, and encouraging people to judge when to eat fresh produce.

Click here to read our article about how supermarkets rank for plastics.

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