New report reveals progress in store to help cut household food waste, but more to be done

5 November 2019

  • WRAP details progress by individual retailers, but says more needs to be done in implementing best practice for packs and labelling to help cut household food waste. 
  • New guidance to reduce fresh produce waste encourages more to be sold without Best Before dates, and loose.
  • Changes could help reduce the UK’s annual food waste bill, including binned fruit and vegetables worth nearly £4 billion. 

Sustainability body WRAP has today 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, explains “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 will 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 

On track

  • 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 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 is excellent, as it 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%, which is excellent as 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 continues, “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.”

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. 

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. 

Notes to Editor

  • Link to Retail Survey and Fresh, uncut fruit and vegetable guidance.
  • WRAP, the Food Standards Agency and Defra Labelling published best practice guidance on applying food date labels and on-pack advice (2017). The guidance summarises regulatory requirements, and best practice to help reduce food waste at home. These actions help towards Courtauld 2025 food waste prevention target, and ultimately the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3
  • The Retail Survey meets a commitment set out in the Government’s Resources & Waste Strategy in detailing progress made in adopting this best practice. WRAP used simulation modelling for the first time to quantify the most impactful actions to help focus industry effort.
  • *Selling more fresh produce loose also supports Target One of the UK Plastics Pact: eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through re-design, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models – where it does not risk increasing food waste in the supply chain, in store or at home.
  • **Statistically, single-person households waste 40% more food per capita than other household types - and are growing in number. Helping people buy the right pack size for their needs could prevent more than 200,000 tonnes of food waste across key packaged perishable categories, per year.
  • A fifth of food in UK homes ends up as waste, with a value of £15 billion. This equates to 7.1 million tonnes of which 5 million tonnes could have been eaten. 
  • Data for the Retail Survey were gathered for own-brand packaged food and drink products stocked by the following major multiple retailers and on-line grocery shopping websites:  ASDA, Aldi, The Co-operative, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.  In food and drink categories where brands have a significant market share (bakery, dairy, juice and meat products), data were also gathered for the following brands:  Hovis, Warburtons, Kingsmill, Arla, Cathedral City, Müller, Yeo Valley, Innocent, Tropicana and Richmond.
  • WRAP is a not for profit organisation founded in 2000 which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire life-cycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond.