An increase in the availability of smaller pack sizes, clearer date labelling and improved storage and freezing guidance are all helping consumers to reduce the £12 billion worth of food they waste, says new research from WRAP.
The WRAP Retailer Survey 20121 demonstrates that the food industry is making good progress towards making it easier for customers to get the best from the food they buy – but it shows there’s still more to be done.
“Today’s report points to some great progress that’s been made,” said WRAP Design & Waste Prevention Director Richard Swannell. “The steps retailers and manufacturers have been taking have made an important contribution towards helping reduce the amount of food we buy and waste.”
The 2012 survey looked at 12,000 products across 20 different categories where food waste has traditionally been high, including bread, bacon, chicken, apples, carrots, potatoes, bagged salad, rice, pasta, yoghurt, eggs, cheese and milk.
“We know from our research into food waste that the amount we’re throwing away every year has fallen2 – but 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,” said Richard.
The survey’s findings included:
- Increased availability of smaller packs of potatoes, milk, cooking sauces, bread and bread rolls (eg the number of four-packs of rolls rose from 18% to 32%, and packs of two, from 5% to 13%)
- Nearly half of all packs (47%) are now re-closable. (eg the number of re-sealable cheese packs has increased to 35% (from 26%) and 73% of rice packs are now re-closable compared to 44%
96% of all products surveyed carried storage guidance, helping consumers keep food fresher for longer
- New labelling3 being rolled out by retailers including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, and now Waitrose, makes it clear consumers don’t have to freeze goods on the day of purchase, but can do so any time up to the ‘use by’ date
- The use of ‘display until’ dates has fallen dramatically with less than a third of surveyed products carrying this. No ‘sell by’ dates were found on any of the products. Retailers are also finding new ways to make the important ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates easier to read – eg Sainsbury’s prints dates on milk and fresh fruit and vegetables in a larger typesize. These steps reduce confusion and help consumers know when to eat foods by
- More than 95% of all cheddar cheese packs surveyed now carry a ‘best before’ date (in 2009, 25% had a ‘use by’ date)
- 94% of chilled orange juice packs surveyed in 2011 carried a ‘use by’ date, but following discussions with WRAP, innocent has adopted a ‘best before’ date on all its smoothies and juices. British Soft Drinks Association and British Retail Consortium members have now agreed that all heat treated (pasteurised) fruit juices should carry a ‘best before’ date. This tells consumers they can use the product quite safely after the date on the label - important when around £220 million of cheese and £80 million of juices are thrown away each year because they are ‘not used in time’
While the results suggest good progress, WRAP has cautioned there’s still more that needs to be done to help consumers waste less.
“We’re continuing to work closely with the food industry through the Courtauld Commitment, trade associations, the Food Standards Agency and Governments, to provide clear recommendations, and the evidence they need to implement further changes,” said Richard.
“There are areas where we think retailers could continue to make improvements – for example, by removing ‘display until’ dates, increasing consistency of ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date use4 and ensuring that consumers are given as long as possible to make use of the food (shelf-life). Increasing the proportion of products that carry freezing and defrosting guidance and the use of ‘freeze before date mark’ label could also make a big difference.“
WRAP believes that combining effective consumer communication with innovation is critical to continued progress. “Manufacturers and supermarkets alike have made great strides with both technological innovations and supporting WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste initiative,” added Richard. “It would be great to see more of the same.”
Full survey can be found here: www.wrap.org.uk/retailsurvey
WRAP’s website: www.wrap.org.uk
“We want to help households save money and waste less by cutting down the £12 billion of perfectly edible food that is thrown away each year. I am pleased to see that the food industry has taken some positive steps by providing clearer date labels and introducing better pack sizes, but there is clearly more that needs to be done. 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.”
Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Waste Minister
“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.
“Simple steps like improving confusing date labels and providing resealable packs can make it easier for householders to manage their food better and avoid wasting it. But we must not be complacent. We still waste far too much food and I hope retailers will go further still to help us tackle this issue, continuing to support our Greener Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland initiatives.”
Richard Lochhead, Scottish Environment Minister
“Today’s survey results are very promising, and I’m really encouraged to see that so many food retailers and manufacturers are actively participating in these waste-reducing initiatives. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do their best to reduce their own food waste as much as possible, ultimately diverting substantial amounts of food from landfill. What I and my department are about is making Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and invest – these changes will certainly help contribute to us achieving this goal.”
Alex Attwood, Northern Ireland Environment Minister
In 2010 WRAP produced its first Retailer Survey (1), which examined how key foods were packaged, labelled and sold, and how this could be improved to help consumers reduce the amount that ends up being thrown away. Two years on, WRAP repeated the study to establish what changes have been made, and what support industry might need to progress further.
(1) Helping Consumers Reduce Food Waste: A Retail Survey, WRAP, 2010
(2) In November 2011, WRAP announced that annual UK household food waste had fallen by 1.1 million tonnes (13%) over a three year period (New estimates for household food and drink waste in the UK, WRAP, 2011). Around 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink is still thrown away annually in UK homes costing around £12 billion. The environmental impact of avoidable household food waste is around 17 million tonnes of CO2e and 4% of the UK total water footprint.
(3) Freezing is often an area of confusion for consumers. This decision tree is intended to help manufacturers label products clearly and has been produced in conjunction with the Food Standards Agency
(4) In some cases, there may well be genuine reasons why guidance given to consumers differs between products that are, from a consumer perspective, similar. These could relate to differences in product formulation, use of preservatives, differences in packaging materials and design and so on. However, in many cases, differences may have arisen for historical reasons or as a result of decisions taken in isolation by individuals or organisations. It is hoped that this report will encourage a review of the products and information given to consumers, and WRAP will be working with retailers, food manufacturers, trade associations, government and the Food Standards Agency to continue to facilitate changes to the retail environment that will help reduce food waste.