M&S bins off best before dates for fruit and vegetables in bid to cut food waste
Marks & Spencer (M&S) is set to remove best before dates from more than 300 of its fresh fruit and vegetable lines, in a move it believes will reduce food waste in customers’ homes.
The change will come into effect this week, covering 85% of M&S’s fresh produce lines and set to be implemented in all stores.
While ‘use by’ dates are applied to foods as a ‘deadline’, when a food presents a high food poisoning risk after a certain amount of time, ‘best before’ dates are guidelines for when to eat foods. Research from WRAP has repeatedly shown high levels of consumer confusion around these terms, which are commonly conflated or mixed up.
By removing best before dates, M&S hopes to discourage customers from throwing away produce which is still good to eat. WRAP estimates that 9.5 million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK in 2018, with 70% wasted in homes.
To ensure that store staff are still able to check the lifetime of the products and discount and remove products from shelves accordingly, a new code will be added to packaging, which can be scanned by M&S employees but not by customers. Trials of this approach were first implemented by M&S in 2019 and extended earlier this year, with successful outcomes.
Other steps being taken by the retailer to curb food waste include creating frozen garlic bread from unsold bakery products, providing free recipe suggestions to customers to encourage them to use up food leftovers, and partnering with food sharing app Neighbourly to redistribute unsold produce.
“The other side of the challenge is making sure anything edible we don’t sell reaches those who need it most,” said Clappen. “By partnering with Neighbourly since 2015 we’ve ensured over 44 million meals are redistributed to local communities. Our promise as we aim for our target of halving food waste is to keep searching for solutions while we maintain the standards and value our customers expect.”
Catherine David, director of collaboration and change at WRAP, welcomed M&S’s decision to ditch ‘best before’ dates from much of its fresh produce, which she said would help to reduce food waste as well as tackle the climate crisis.
“Removing dates on fresh fruit and veg can save the equivalent of seven million shopping baskets of food being binned in our homes,” said David. “We urge more supermarkets to get ahead on food waste by axing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgement.”
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