Sustainability body WRAP has 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.
WRAP visited nearly sixty 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.
Peter Maddox, director at WRAP, explained: “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.”
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 aims to 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.
Retail Survey findings
- The amount of product life available to consumers has remained stable on many products. However, more than one-fifth of items found on shelf had just two days or fewer remaining life; including bread, minced beef and berries. For milk, an increase in 1.5 days of available shelf life was noted, which WRAP says is excellent as an extra day alone could help reduce household milk waste by more than 20,000 tonnes per year.
- A quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carry no date label, which aligns to the updated guidance. Three retailers have removed ‘Best Before’ on some fresh produce, with another committing to remove them 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 ‘<5oC’ to products. This helps prompt people to check the temperature of their fridge and keeping fridges at the right temperature keeps food safe and fresher for longer.
- There has been a significant increase in the use of the snowflake logo, rising from 15% to nearly 50%. The number of bread items now carrying the snowflake has doubled to 79%. Freezing is a key way to extend life of bread items and reduce the likelihood of it being wasted.
More action required
- 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 block 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 yogurts and cheese.
- Bagged salads typically have 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 percent of 2.5kg bagged white potato, 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 the phrase ‘Freeze on Day of Purchase’ stopped. 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 packaging and dates
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 including loose can help to reduce food waste. Offering fresh produce loose gives customers the opportunity 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.
Peter Maddox continued, “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.”
“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.”
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 plan to roll out the initiative to 60 stores by the end of 2019.
The 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. Whilst 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.