Co-op scales back best-before dates as Sainsbury’s launches surplus fruit and veg boxes

Image: the Co-op

The Co-op announced today (20 February) that, in the coming weeks, shoppers will notice that best-before dates will be removed from the vast majority of its fresh produce lines with the exception of “a small number of the more perishable products” such as berries.

The retailer trialed this practice on a select number of fruit and vegetable products last year and has claimed this was a success.

Retailers are required to have use-by and/or best-before dates on certain food and beverage products under rules set by the Food Standards Agency (FCA). While use-by dates are applied to foods as a ‘deadline’, when a food presents a high food poisoning risk after a certain amount of time, best-before dates are guidelines for when to eat foods.

Research has repeatedly found that many customers mix the two terms up, throwing away food as soon as it reaches its best-before date, because they assume it is unsafe after this point.

As well as removing best-before dates, the Co-op is also introducing on-pack guidance on fruits and vegetables to highlight the optimum storage conditions to prolong product life. It highlighted previous research from WRAP that found that broccoli often lasts up to 15 days after the ‘best-before’ date before showing deterioration. The difference can be up to 20 days for potatoes, meanwhile, and 70 days for apples.

Co-op has already added on-pack messaging on own-brand milk products, highlighting that they can be frozen at home to prevent waste. It has also replaced ‘use-by’ dates with ‘best-before’ dates on yoghurts, coupled with guidance to check how the yogurts look and smell before binning them.

“As we face into a climate, environmental and cost-of-living crisis, we are committed to helping our customers cut food waste in the home and save money,” said the Co-op’s propositions director Adele Balmforth.

“Date codes can drive decisions in the home, and result in good food being thrown away – which has a cost to both people and to our planet. In addition to axing best before dates on fresh fruit and vegetables, our inclusion of storage on instructions can also help products last longer and, sits alongside our simple on-pack message for shoppers – ‘If it still looks good enough to eat, it is.”

The Co-op is the latest in a string of supermarkets to axe best-before dates on certain products – typically fruits and vegetables. Last August, Asda confirmed the removal of best-before dates from more than 200 fresh fruit and vegetable lines. Staff will be able to check whether products are still in a fit condition to display by scanning a special on-pack code. This move followed the same change at M&S, covering some 300 product lines. Aldi and Lidl then made similar changes last September. Sainsbury’s and Tesco, meanwhile, made these changes some time ago.

Veg box bonanza

In related news, Sainsbury’s is set to stock new fruit and vegetable boxes in 200 of its UK stores, following successful trials last year.

The £2 ‘Taste Me, Don’t Waste Me’ boxes will include a variety of loose fruits and vegetables that would have otherwise gone to waste, but which are fit to eat. The items may be ‘wonky’, not meeting cosmetic standards, or they may be surplus.

“We believe that everyone deserves to eat well at an affordable price, and we hope this additional support will ensure that good quality food doesn’t go to waste,” said Sainsbury’s’ director of fresh food Richard Crampton.

Sainsbury’s also confirmed that it is planning to remove best-before dates from a further 130 product lines, mainly fruits and vegetables, after making the change across more than 100 SKUs last year.

Sainsbury’s is notably aiming to halve food waste across its value chain by 2030 – including waste in consumers’ homes. Waste at the consumer level accounts for some 70% of the UK’s total annual food waste mountain, with WRAP estimating that the average family bins food worth £700 each year.

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