The Big Issue: Food Waste

As the UK is estimated to waste 7.3 million tonnes of food and drink each year, it’s no surprise that supermarkets have constantly been in the spotlight. Many have introduced campaigns in order to help tackle this number and to educated customers on how they too can cut their food waste back at home; it’s been reported that the average family of four wastes at least £60 worth of food every month.

However, The National Federation of Women’s Institute (NFWI) conducted a survey which shared that less than half of the participants understood what is meant by the ‘Best Before’ dates on packaging, providing a possible explanation to why families waste is so high. Yet supermarkets are a different story, so we investigated what some of the leading brands are doing to help solve this
big issue.


Tesco is pioneering the reduction of food waste both in their stores, and once their customers have purchased their products. To do this, they have introduced schemes such as ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ which offers a range of wonky fruit and veg which doesn’t meet the desired specifications and is sold at a reduced price. They have also recently removed ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates from nearly 70 fruit and veg to prevent customers discarding food which could still be eaten.

Mark Little, Head of Food Waste at Tesco, commented: “We know some customers may be confused by the difference between ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By’ dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded. We have made this change to fruit and vegetable packaging as they are among the most wasted foods.”

It has been reported that less than 1 per cent of food at Tesco is wasted, that no food has entered a landfill site since 2009 (instead, it helps to feed livestock and oil is transformed into bio-diesel), and that since 2013, 14.5 million meals have been donated to those less fortunate.

The Co-op

To reduce waste, The  Co-op have implemented Food Share, a hands-on approach which donates food that has a ‘Used By’ or ‘Best Before’ date on the same day, two hours before the store closes. Food Share is a national distribution programme which allows The Co-op to partner up with local charities and community groups to supply fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat, prepared meals, bakery and dairy-products. In addition, they’re also mindful of managing stock and turning out-of-date food which they were unable to share into green energy.


Reporting that they only waste 1 in 6,000 food items (which translates to 0.02 per cent!) Ocado is a champion food-waste retailer. The company have shared that their success is due to their ever-improving processes, technology and relationship with suppliers. They also have futuristic warehouses known as Customer Fulfilment Centres, where food can be delivered fresh from suppliers straight to the consumer’s doorstep within 5 hours.

Helen White, Special Advisor on Household Food Waste at WRAP, explained: “Ocado’s approach to driving down food waste in their supply chain has resulted in impressively low food waste figures. By guaranteeing product life, providing customers with clear information and using innovative packaging solutions they are helping us all to do our bit to drive down food waste too.”


Unfortunately, Sainsbury’s haven’t had quite as much luck as its competitors, as it has recently abandoned Waste Less, Save More, the £10 million project launched in 2015 to help halve household food waste. To do this, Sainsbury’s gave families in Swadlincote, a town in south Derbyshire, UK, gadgets such as “smart fridges” and food planners to help them become more conscious about the food they buy and throw away. Although their target was to cut waste by 50 per cent, they actually failed to make it to double digits; the final percentage has not been shared, but it’s assumed to be 9 per cent. Sainsbury’s has therefore dropped the campaign, but the retailer’s work will be transferred to the wider “wellbeing” campaign.

What next?

It’s clear to see that supermarkets are trying to tackle the food waste problem head on, so much so that it has almost sparked competition between them for ‘who can waste the least’. However, there is still a long way to go if we want to reduce not only the food we throw into landfills, but the money we waste in doing so. The two main problems that need to be tackled are waste from households and supermarkets.

To reduce household waste, families need to become more mindful of how much produce they’re buying, when products actually go out of date (disregarding ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates) and freezing or giving away products which will not be consumed in time. As for supermarkets, there are a number of different routes that can be taken. The most popular being managing stock, using ‘smart’ packaging which can increase the shelf-life of meat by 5 days, reducing packaging and introducing innovative products to give customers a wider selection, for example offering frozen avocados as an alternative to buying them fresh. Giving away soon-to-be out of date produce to charities and organisations as well as removing ‘buy one get one free’, ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates are also recognised ways of reducing fresh fruit and veg being wasted.


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