“Win. Don’t Bin”: Food Waste Action Week 2023
6th – 12th March marks Food Waste Action Week – WRAP’s third annual event of its kind, as part of the wider Love Food Hate Waste campaign to action food waste reduction globally . The 2023 campaign is focussed on promoting a range of skills that reduce food waste at home and prompt the public on ways to use leftovers alongside best practice advice when it comes to labelling, storage and reheating.
The food waste fight is a big one, impacting the supply chain, hospitality, FMCG and households alike. This week is all about encouraging consumers to find ways to make the food they already have go further, changing minds and behaviours for the better on how to use ‘waste’. In the context of cost of living, making your food, and therefore money, last is more important than ever. Whether its planning meals with shopping lists and meal plans, composting, freezing, sharing leftovers with others or simply paying more attention to what’s in the fridge, there are many simple changes that can easily be adopted to reduce food waste in the home. But how are UK brands combatting food waste and helping consumers make the right choices?
Scrapping guidelines in favour of personal judgement
‘Use by’ or ‘best before’ – are the labelling terms that often cause confusion for citizens with when food is still safe to eat and when they should consume produce by. They are often seen as a food safety label (but are a guideline on optimum freshness), leaving many citizens to reject edible, but date-expired food, resulting in consumable produce ending up in the bin. A campaign to cut down on household food waste has been driving momentum amongst British supermarkets to remove these labels from their packaging.
Most of the major supermarkets have made changes to address this,. with Waitrose and M&S replacing ‘best before’ dates with a code for staff to to check freshness and ensure quality control, and Tesco being part of this movement since 2018. The Co-op is now the latest to follow suit as last month they removed the best before dates from over 150 lines of fresh fruit and vegetables. These changes are putting the power in the hand of consumers to use their own judgement on whether their food can be consumed safely, with the aim of decreasing the amount of food being wasted.
Whilst ‘best before’ dates are easier to remove, there’s been some concern around the safety of removing ‘use by’ due to the risk this might pose to consumer health if they guess wrong. Equally, for those who do not feel confident in their judgement, some produce may be thrown out prematurely, reversing the intended impact. This highlights the need for more guidance and education on product shelf life.
Getting creative with leftovers
This year’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign – which starts today – reports that UK households waste 6.5 million tonnes of food every year, of which 4.5 million tonnes is edible. According to WRAP, potatoes, bread and milk are the items that are most likely to end up in the bin.
However, food waste is often unintentional – plans change, people treat themselves to a takeaway, or simply forget what is at the back of the fridge. But the demands of cost of living are leading to behaviour shifts and inventive uses of leftover food.
Beyond lockdown trends such as banana bread, we are seeing more ideas and creativity when it comes to repurposing food. Whether that’s home food preservation, effective meal planning tips, leftover recipe inspiration, or food management behaviour advice, it can easily be found from a quick search online.
Creativity with surplus food is also on the rise for retailers, with supermarkets opting for more inventive means of ‘reuse’. M&S has worked with Adnam’s Brewery to develop three beers made from the crusted end of loaves. This type of initiative offers a double whammy win for brands, building ethical credentials and impact, alongside providing a new product that can then be sold back to consumers. Responsible shopping practices combined with these larger scale brand commitments highlight the need for a joint effort in beating the food waste epidemic.
Meal subscription services
The recipe box industry has seen huge growth in recent years. Already a competitive market, HelloFresh, Gousto and Simply Cook are some of the key players. Meals are delivered to your door complete with instructions and pre-measured ingredients. Whilst ease and convenience sit as the core USPs, these deliveries are also combatting food waste by providing the exact amount of food required for each portion, creating zero-waste cooking options.
For those who like more freedom with their recipes, companies such as Oddbox offer ‘wonky’ fruit and veg boxes to bring surplus produce to your home that would otherwise get thrown away for being ‘imperfect’. Whilst there is an argument that these types of frequent postal deliveries create a high carbon footprint, the reduction in unused produce and prevention of over-purchasing is having a big environmental impact in the context of waste.
Partnerships and app’s to help give back to the community
Other brands are also collaborating to tackle this wider issue. Co-op and Microsoft have partnered to launch a new digital platform called Caboodle, which aims to prevent tonnes of edible food from being thrown away. The service allows supermarkets, restaurants and cafes to redistribute surplus food with the help of volunteers. Charities, community groups and youth clubs can then be notified when food is ready to share in their local area through a digital alert system via the app.
FlashFood is an app helping citizens save money on fresh food on items like meat and produce that are nearing their best before date at grocery stores across the US and Canada. Wasteless is also another tech innovation – this time available in supermarkets – which offers dynamic product pricing and so helps to inspire citizens to buy fresh food that is nearer it’s use by date by lower prices.
Alternatively, app-based brand Olio offers a free platform to share your own unwanted or uneaten food with your local neighbourhood. An accessible and effective solution to ensure resources are shared, rather than thrown away.
Gousto, now officially a B Corp, has also been collaborating with DPD to facilitate the re-routing of any failed box deliveries to the surplus food distribution charity, FareShare. The food can then be donated to support vulnerable people via foodbanks across the country, further combatting food waste across the business. These types of partnerships are developing meaningful and impactful relationships that gives back to those in need, whilst also reducing the amount of food that goes to landfill.
The cost of living crisis combined with the desires to make environmentally-friendly and sustainable choices generates a unique set of challenges for consumers in their everyday lives. This leads to a range of difficult decisions – living sustainably, living affordably, living a convenient lifestyle. Is it possible to have it all?
Brands have an opportunity to make more sustainable choices easier and more accessible, providing the ‘feel good’ factor by helping consumers to make effortless changes when it comes to environmental responsibility. Whilst awareness builds around consumer brands’ impact on the planet, a large proportion of food waste comes from the home, creating a need for a joint effort for combatting food waste. There’s a lot more to be done, but these initiatives show brands are willing to positively engage with the issue; building awareness and impacting consumer behavioural change as a result.
Image Credit: WRAP Food Waste Action Week 2023.