Marks & Spencer has removed best-before dates from a range of fresh produce to help in the mission to cut down on food waste.
As part of its ‘Plan A’ sustainability commitment, the retailer has pledged to halve food waste by 2030, with a promise to ensure that 100% of its edible surplus will be redistributed by the year 2025.
In changes that can be seen in-store from this week, the best-before messaging has been removed from the labelling of over 300 fruit and vegetable products. This makes up 85% of Marks & Spencers fresh produce offering.
This includes most commonly wasted items such as apples, potatoes and broccoli, items which, with effective storage and care, can last much longer than advertised best-before dates. Dates will be replaced with a code that the Marks & Spencer staff members will use as an indicator to ensure products are removed from sale as required.
Catherine David is a leader in sustainability at the climate action NGO, WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and she has commented favourably on the initiative: “Removing dates on fresh fruit and vegetables can save the equivalent of 7 million shopping baskets of food being binned in our homes. We urge more supermarkets to get ahead on food waste by axing date labels from fresh produce, allowing people to use their own judgement.”
Indeed WRAP research indicates that an estimated 6.6 million tonnes of food is thrown away by UK households a year.
It is believed that some consumers are confused by best-before dates and throw away perfectly edible food, relying on the printed guide date rather than using their own knowledge to decide on food quality.
Not all supermarkets use best-before dates on products. Lidl, for example, has never printed them on its UK food produce in a bid to help ‘prolong shelf life’ of goods.
In addition to the removal of best-before dates, Marks & Spencer will focus on other initiatives to help with food waste and the cost of living crisis.
The retailer will maintain a partnership with Neighbourly, a B-Corp which helps businesses to make a positive impact by donating volunteer time, money and surplus products through a dedicated platform. Marks & Spencer have donated over 44 million meals through the site since 2015.
Andrew Clappen, Director of Food Technology at the retailer said: “We need to be innovative and ambitious – removing best before dates where safe to do so, trialling new ways to sell our products and galvanising our customers to get creative with leftovers and embrace change.”
All major supermarkets have signed up to guidelines by sustainability organisation WRAP to sell loose produce such as aubergines, carrots and peppers by 2025.
WRAP highlights that nearly half of global greenhouse gas GHG emissions can only be tackled by changing the way products and food are made and consumed.
Retailers must enable positive and effective change in the critical arena of sustainability. They must continue to focus on how food and textile production can eliminate all plastic pollution, increase recycling and of course reduce waste.
As consumers face into increasingly higher food prices and living costs there will be a continued focus on value for money and may well sharpen focus on weekly household waste.