One of the largest grocery chains in the U.K. is changing its packaging to tackle food waste.
The problem is that there’s a lot of confusion about the difference between “best before” and “use by” dates. Research by the U.K.’s National Federation of Women’s Institutes found that less than half of respondents knew what the “best before” date meant. Food beyond its “use by” date could be dangerous to eat, while the “best before” date only suggests that the food will taste better if consumed in a certain period.
Food waste is a major issue in the grocery business and it carries implications for hunger, obesity, and nutrient availability as well as profit. But most grocery stores do poorly at reducing food waste. A recent report from The Center for Biological Diversity and The “Ugly” Fruit and Veg Campaign gave U.S. grocery stores letter grades for how well they dealt with food waste. Not a single store got an A.
Tesco is not the only grocery store trying to address the issue. Another U.K. grocery chain, The Co-operative Group, has started selling some products beyond their “best before” date for as little as 10 pence (13 cents), and donating fresh produce at risk of going to waste in private homes to charities.
While these companies are trying to tackle food waste within existing business models, some companies are baking food-waste initiatives in at the ground level. Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, founded a new grocery business in 2012 called Daily Table that is built around selling food other stores and manufacturers might discard because it’s past the “best before” date. Selling a mix of donated and discounted foods, Daily Table aims to tackle hunger and obesity by providing better nutrition at better prices. Although there are only two locations at the moment, Rauch’s experience growing Trader Joe’s and building its cult-like following may help extend the model.
But “best before” dates are not the only cause of food waste in the grocery supply chain. In fact, 80% of food waste happens before products reach the shelves. That’s why the Dutch start-up accelerator Rockstart is teaming up with A.P. Moller-Marsk, a global logistics company that works in the food supply chain. Together they’ll sponsor three rounds of an incubator program specifically for businesses aiming to tackle food waste throughout the supply chain.