Co-op announces plan to remove use-by on own-brand yoghurts

Co-op has announced plans to scrap use-by dates from all of its own-brand yoghurts, in an attempt to reduce food waste.

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In an announcement, the food and retail business highlighted that 42,000 tonnes – £100million worth – of edible yoghurt that is thrown out by UK homes each year, due to guidance printed on packets. By removing ‘use-by’ information, the Co-op hopes to combat these figures.

‘Use by’ guidance on the retailer’s entire range of own-brand yoghurt packets will be replaced with ‘best before’ dates – the overall aim being that shoppers will be supported in preventing unnecessary food waste at home. Co-op stated that the change will be implemented from May, with the full range to be amended by October.

Data has revealed that ‘six million people in the UK consume a yoghurt each day’, with further research from WRAP showing that 50 per cent of yoghurts are thrown away in unopened packs. 70 per cent of the all the yoghurt wasted in the home was due to yoghurts ‘not being used in time’, WRAP found, with the date label cited as the reason.

‘Use by’ dates are traditionally used on yoghurt packets due to links to food safety and to guide shoppers not to consume past a specified date. In comparison, ‘best before’ dates, which the Co-op will adopt, refers to quality and often allows for the food to be eaten after that date.

Testing shows the product is safe to consume past its listed expiration date and that the main change is of quality. Co-op’s new guidance aims to encourage shoppers to check the quality of the product and use visual cues to establish the suitability to consume.

In 2021, Co-op removed date labels on several fresh produce lines as part of an ongoing trial and also offered on pack storage advice on a number of its ranges to help cut waste.

Nick Cornwell, Head of Food Technical, Co-op, said: “Yoghurt can be safe to eat if stored unopened in a fridge after the date mark shown, so we have made the move to best before dates to help reduce food waste. The acidity of yoghurt acts as a natural defence and we’d encourage shoppers to use their judgement on the quality of their yoghurt if it is past the best before date.

“Data from WRAP has suggested that 70 per cent of food waste happens within the home setting. It’s our ambition to help our members and customers to make small changes that will collectively make a big impact and combat unnecessary food waste.

“Controlling food waste is not only beneficial for managing household budgets, it also has an environmental benefit and will ultimately help reduce carbon emissions. We encourage more retailers and brands to review their on-pack guidance and make the switch to best before dates for yoghurts.”

Catherine David, Director of Collaboration and Change WRAP: “We’re delighted to see Co-op making this change to its entire yoghurt range, as we know that the date label on yoghurt is a fundamental reason that it is wasted at home. Wasting food feeds climate change and costs money. Applying a best before date helps give people the confidence to use their judgement to eat beyond a best before date and use more of the yoghurt they buy – protecting the planet and their pockets.

“We’d encourage all food businesses to follow WRAP/FSA/Defra best practice and identify where products, especially dairy items, like yoghurt, can have a best before date applied and to make that change wherever possible. This action from Co-op shows what a fantastic opportunity there is to stop unnecessary food waste.”