How Co-op are bringing common sense to supermarket waste

It is rare to find myself breaking out of a lifelong mould of cynicism and unreservedly praise something but this good news story from last month is just the thing to buoy one’s hopes for 2018. After a three-month experiment of selling food items beyond their “best before” dates, Co-op’s East of England sector will be implementing this strategy across its 125 stores in an effort to reduce food waste. In the wake of China refusing to take in our plastic waste, our minds should be concentrated on efforts to inwardly look after ourselves and our leftovers.

Food items like tinned goods, snacks and starch-based foods like pasta have much longer “use by” than “best before” dates but unfortunately many people bin food after the “best before” date. The result is 200,000 tonnage of food waste, the majority of which is perfectly edible and now, at the nominal price of 10p, you can pick up all such goods at Co-ops around East-Anglia. The goal of reducing food waste is laudable in itself but by openly selling food at such a reasonable price the supermarket chain will be helping the poorest in society. It will reduce weekly expenditure on food and hopefully, if the plan takes off nationally, reduce the cost of living.

Snatched up by eager customers, not one item remained more than a day on 10p in the 14 stores where this strategy was trialled. Roger Grosvenor, the joint chief executive of East of England Co-op, remarked on its initial success: “This is not a money-making exercise, but a sensible move to reduce food waste and keep edible food in the food chain. By selling perfectly edible food we can save 50,000 plus items every year which would otherwise have gone to waste.” It is hard to find a negative in this story, apart from the possible risk of dodgy items on sale or legal complications from customers suing over quality, but one would hope the confidence shown by Co-op will inspire other stores to follow suit. Having worked in Tesco myself I know supermarkets are incredibly tight on food waste and recycling. This step seems congruous and inevitable to the current ethos within the food industry, one of those celebrated developments which private innovation throws up to benefit all. 

If this plan was to spread nationwide and, given their international scope, worldwide, further reductions of waste through the selling of wonky fruit and damaged goods might result in a more extensive coverage of low-priced yet perfectly edible foods. The financial implications for individual households as well as the positive environmental results are exciting for individuals as well as for a country whose waste is now more than ever a problem to solve.

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