Food firms help to cut £12bn food waste bill

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food waste Shelf life Supermarket Bread

Clear labelling is helping to keep a lid on food waste
Clear labelling is helping to keep a lid on food waste
Food manufacturers are helping consumers to make significant cuts in the £12bn worth of food they waste each year, according to new research from the government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Smaller pack sizes, clearer date labelling and improved storage and freezing guidance are helping to make the savings, revealed WRAP’s Retailer Survey 2012.

Richard Swannell, WRAP director design and waste prevention, said: “The steps retailers and manufacturers have been taking have made an important contribution towards helping reduce the amount of food we buy and waste.”

WRAP noted the wider availability of smaller packs of potatoes, milk, cooking sauces, bread and bread rolls was helping to cut waste.

Re-sealable packs

Nearly half of all packs (47%) are now re-closable. For example, the number of re-sealable cheese packs had risen to 35% from 26% last year. Also, 73% of rice packs were now re-closable, compared with 44% previously.

Nearly all (96%) products surveyed carried storage guidance, helping consumers keep food fresher for longer.

The survey highlighted new labelling used by retailers including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, and Waitrose, which makes it clear consumers can freeze goods any time up to the ‘use by’ date.

The use of ‘display until’ dates fell significantly with less than a third of surveyed products carrying this.

The survey also revealed that retailers are also finding new ways to make ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates easier to read. Sainsbury prints dates on milk and fresh fruit and vegetables in a larger type size, it said.

Despite the progress made, there was still considerable scope for improvement, said Swannell. “We’re still wasting enough food to fill Wembley Stadium nine times. There is still more we could all do to reduce waste – and save money in these hard-pressed times - and the food industry can help us,”​ he said.

Retailers could make further improvements by removing ‘display until’ dates, increasing consistency of ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date.


Consumers should also be given as long as possible to make use of the food by extending its shelf-life, he added.

Increasing the proportion of products that carry freezing and defrosting guidance and the use of a ‘freeze before date mark’ label would also make a big difference.

“Manufacturers and supermarkets alike have made great strides with both technological innovations and supporting WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste initiative,”​ said Swannell. “It would be great to see more of the same.”

The British Retail Consortium welcomed the research. Its director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, said: “Food waste costs. Retailers have been doing everything they can to help customers avoid it. Reducing food waste in the home is the real environmental priority, a much bigger target than waste from stores.

“The myth that retailers confuse customers by using “sell by” dates can be put to bed for good. Not a single “sell by” date was found in this survey of more than 12,000 products. We all want to reduce our waste, especially hard-pressed shoppers, and this is welcome official confirmation that retailers are doing everything they can to help customers cut their bills.”  

Lord Taylor of Holbeach, waste minister, said: “I will be pushing food suppliers and retailers to make it as simple as possible for shoppers to know when food is safe to eat and how to cut down on what we throw away.

“Wasting food is not only a waste of money, it also contributes to climate change, so I welcome this evidence that supermarket retailers are now taking this issue seriously.” 

The 2012 survey studied 12,000 products across 20 different categories where food waste has traditionally been high. Those included bread, bacon, chicken, apples, carrots, potatoes, bagged salad, rice, pasta, yogurt, eggs, cheese and milk.

Related topics Dairy Food safety and labelling

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