WRAP reiterates call for retailers to improve labelling to reduce food waste

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has published its latest Retail Survey, revealing the progress made by grocery retailers and major brands in improving food labelling and packaging.

An image of a supermarket trolly

The survey saw WRAP visit nearly 60 supermarkets and examine 2,000 products, focusing on a sub-set of products that are wasted most at home, including bread and milk. Each retailer has been given an individual assessment of its own performance, including a summary of the retailer’s good practice and areas for action.

The survey also comes with new guidance from WRAP on fresh, uncut fruit and vegetables, produced in partnership with the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to help retailers tackle food waste by reducing packaging and improving the use of date labels.

According to WRAP, its best practice guidance will help to reduce the two million tonnes of food thrown away each year due to it not being used in time, as well as to reduce the 1.2 million tonnes thrown away because of too much being cooked or served.

Supermarket progress

The survey results revealed that retailers are making progress in their use of labels, with a quarter of all pre-packed unprepared fresh produce now carrying no date label and three retailers removing ‘best before’ labels on some products. This follows WRAP’s guidance that the removal of date labels can reduce household food waste as consumers will be more likely to use their judgement and consume a product rather than throw it away.

Almost all products had correct home storage advice, with WRAP’s ‘Little Blue Fridge’ logo – used for items which would benefit from being kept in the fridge – increasing in prominence.

The use of the ‘snowflake’ symbol, which indicates that a product is suitable for home-freezing, has risen from 15 per cent to nearly 50 per cent, and the number of bread items now carrying the snowflake has doubled to 79 per cent.

The shelf life of certain products has also improved – milk, for instance, has had an average increase of 1.5 days of shelf life. This will have a significant impact on reducing waste, as just an extra day’s shelf life can help reduce household milk waste by more than 20,000 tonnes per year.

More action required

Although significant progress has been made, the survey also highlighted areas where more action is required.

In particular, little evidence was found of retailers having implemented guidance to improve ‘open life’ labelling on how long a product should be used once the packaging has been opened. Notably, although the average available life for block cheddar was 64 days, 90 per cent of packs carried advice to use within five or seven days of opening.

WRAP’s Director Peter Maddox explained: “The way food and drink is packaged, labelled and prices 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.

“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 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.”

Tesco, which has previously been ranked the top supermarket for food waste prevention, has reportedly labelled all products within WRAP’s correct category guidance and has removed ‘best before’ dates from 189 fruit and vegetable lines.

However, in response to WRAP’s recommendation that Tesco use the ‘Little Blue Fridge’ logo to identify products that can be chilled, Tesco commented that this would not be possible due to space limitations.

Waitrose, which was ranked by charity Feedback as the worst performing supermarket for food waste prevention, has also labelled all products within WRAP’s correct category guidance and has committed to removing ‘best before’ labels from all packaged fruit and vegetables throughout 2020.

Aiming to tackle the seven million tonnes of food thrown away annually, WRAP has made a significant commitment to targeting food waste  – its Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, launched in September 2018, sets out actions and milestones to help UK businesses halve food waste by 2030.

You can read the results of the Retail Survey on WRAP’s website

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