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No more Best Before: UK WRAP calls for more effective labeling to fight food waste

by Packaging Insights

UK government-backed resource efficiency charity WRAP has issued new guidance encouraging retailers to sell more fresh produce loose and without Best Before dates.

These changes could help reduce the UK’s annual food waste bill, including binned fruit and vegetables worth nearly £4 billion (US$5.1 billion), the organization says.

WRAP recognizes progress by individual retailers in its latest Retail Survey but reiterates that more needs to be done in implementing best practice for packs and labeling to help cut household food waste.

The Retail Survey examined to what extent the UK’s largest grocery retailers and major brands have made progress in implementing best-practice guidance on date labels, product life, pack size and storage/freezing advice.

The sustainability body visited nearly sixty supermarkets and examined 2,000 food products – representing those most frequently wasted in UK 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 performance, including where improvements are required, which is summarized in the Retail Survey.

“The way food and drink are packaged, labeled and priced can influence household food waste, and retailers and brands are uniquely placed to help minimize food waste in the home,” says Peter Maddox, Director for WRAP.

“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 research shows that the presence of a date label, of any type, influences behavior and makes people more likely to discard food once the date has passed. WRAP recommends removing Best Before dates from some fresh produce to help reduce waste by encouraging consumers to use their judgment.

WRAP also encourages the use of a range of pack sizes and formats, including loose, to decrease fresh produce food waste. Offering fresh produce loose allows customers to purchase the correct amount for their needs.

The circular economy expert has developed decision-making tools and guidance for retailers 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 avoid plastic packaging. A small group of customers preferred plastic packaging for convenience and hygiene reasons.

Following the successful 10-month trial, Morrisons plans to roll out the initiative to 60 stores by the end of 2019.

“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,” Maddox explains.

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