Best Before, food waste reduction and bottom lines

By Janette Woodhouse
Friday, 25 May, 2018

Best Before, food waste reduction and bottom lines

In the UK, Tesco’s has announced that it is removing ‘Best Before’ dates on nearly 70 selected fruit and vegetable lines including apples, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lemons and other citrus fruit, to “help cut down on food waste”.

The claim being that this is being done to help prevent perfectly edible food from being thrown away — a laudable aim.

The concept of Best Before is confusing to many consumers. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) recently looked into causes of food waste and found that less than half of respondents understood the meaning of Best Before dates. ‘Use by’ they did understand but many basically considered Best Before and Use by to be synonymous and discarded food once the Best Before date was reached.

Explaining their motivation in removing the dates, Tesco’s Head of Food Waste, Mark Little, said, “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.

“Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the Best Before date code on the packaging.”

David Moon, Head of Business Collaboration at WRAP, added, “Through the Courtauld Commitment 2025, WRAP is working with the food and drink sector to review all the evidence on date labelling for fresh produce and agree best practice. This change by Tesco provides a good opportunity to learn about the customer response, and we anticipate Tesco will share their findings. With all fresh produce, appropriate storage including use of the refrigerator is essential in giving the customer more time to use their food, so clarity of storage advice on pack and in-store will be vital.”

Reducing food waste, particularly fresh produce waste, is essential. This move by Tesco will help but I imagine their motivation is not solely about waste minimisation — the removal will allow them to keep produce on sale for longer as well. The fact that this move is also advantageous to Tesco’s bottom line is not mentioned in any of their press releases, but perhaps it should be as it may encourage other companies to look at ways to reduce waste and to realise that this needn’t be disadvantageous.

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