At the end of 2017, Tesco pledged to end edible food waste by March 2018, becoming the only UK retailer to no longer waste food fit for human consumption.
With 6,553 stores serving 50 million shoppers each week, the supermarket chain now claims that less than 1 per cent of food at Tesco is indeed wasted. To make this a sustained reality, it works with farmers and suppliers to adjust crop specifications as well as local charities and community groups through their Community Food Connection programme.
According to a recently released supermarket scorecard done by London-based campaign and research group Feedback Global, Tesco ranked No. 1 among the top 10 UK retailers for its food waste initiatives.
Feedback Global lauded Tesco for being:
• The first supermarket to publish third party audited food waste data.
• The first supermarket to sign up to the Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste from farm to fork by 2030.
• Committed to extending transparency to include measurement of food waste in its supply chain.
• Significantly increased quantity of food redistributed to people in need; donating 7975 tonnes in 2017/17 representing a 40 percent increase on the previous year.
With the third quarter of 2018 underway, Tesco is continuing to take its pledge seriously.
Off with the 'Best Before' labels
In June, Tesco announced it will remove the “best before” label date off approximately 70 fruit and vegetable lines.
The fruits and vegetables include popular items such as apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons and other citrus fruit and onions — all perfectly edible food that is thrown away daily throughout the UK. To put this into perspective, the produce waste nationwide amounts to 35 per cent of the national food waste.
The move comes as a result of the label’s confusing indications, as well as the detrimental effects of throwing edible food in the bin.
Originally, retailers introduced ‘best before’ labels in the UK to put on foods as a quality indication to show that although food is no longer at its best, it is still good to eat. According to The Food Standards Agency, “the best before date, sometimes shown as BBE, is about quality, and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best.”
But the labelling seemed to confuse UK consumers. A recent campaign by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) challenged the actual meaning of “best before” by putting out a survey to 5,000 of its members. It found that less than half of respondents understood what "best before" means, and 90 per cent of respondents are happy to buy fruit and veg that is imperfect, regardless of whether it is cheaper.
In another study by London-based market research company Mintel that surveyed 1,500 UK consumers, two thirds said they rely on their own senses – such as smell, taste and sight – rather than dates to decide if a product is still suitable to eat.
Tesco’s solution: Let’s get rid of the labels
“We know some customers may be confused by the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates on food and this can lead to perfectly edible items being thrown away before they need to be discarded," says Tesco head of food waste Mark Little. "We have made this change to fruit and vegetable packaging as they are among the most wasted foods. Many customers have told us that they assess their fruit and vegetables by the look of the product rather than the ‘best before’ date code on the packaging.”
The industry is turning heads at Tesco’s bold move.
David Moon, The Waste and Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) head of businesss collaboration says, “This change by Tesco provides a good opportunity to learn about the customer response, and we anticipate Tesco will share their findings.
"With all fresh produce, appropriate storage including use of the refrigerator is essential in giving the customer more time to use their food, so clarity of storage advice on pack and in-store will be vital. Through the Courtauld Commitment 2025, WRAP is working with the food and drink sector to review all the evidence on date labeling for fresh produce and agree on best practices.”
Green days for lemons
Tesco’s labeling is the second grand initiative by the supermarket chain this year to reduce food waste.
Lemon shortage in the UK has become a growing concern. Caused by a significantly reduced end-of-season volume in Spain — from where the UK gets the bulk of its lemons until the end of spring — and a huge jump in demand in the UK by nearly 10 percent, lemons are becoming sparse.
To help reduce the potentially overwhelming loss of lemons, Tesco has put a greener version of the fruit on its supermarket shelves, introducing South African lemons — that usually hit the UK market in June – a few months earlier, in their green days.
The green fruit is still as crisp and zesty, despite the colour difference.
Not only are the green lemons perfectly edible, they actually last longer, gaining approximately two days' shelf life as they turns yellow, and becoming a natural food waste reducer.
Tesco citrus fruit buyer Savia Weidinger explains: “These greener lemons that we now have on sale are already mature and perfect tasting inside but need longer for the skin to turn yellow.
“With the South African crop that happens towards the end of June as evenings cool which helps the fruit to colour up. The move not only means that shoppers will again be easily able to buy a fruit that is growing in popularity, but they will gain extra freshness.”
The greener lemons are now available in 800 Tesco stores across the UK.
Tesco’s track record on food wastage initiatives
Tesco’s commitment to reducing food waste began in 2016, when the supermarket launched its ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range of wonky fruit and vegetables — a produce line, including apples, pears, potatoes, parsnips, cucumbers, courgettes, strawberries and frozen mixed berries, that were perfectly edible but didn’t look as perfect and glam as the others.
The results: Exceptional popularity with customers. Their perfectly imperfect strawberries quite literally flew off the shelves, accounting for 15 percent of its total strawberry sales.
Tesco also has worked to absolve the high supply that can occur from crop flushes — when an unexpected bumper crop of say, strawberries, happens. To make sure all the strawberries got sold, Tesco marked them at leading price points in kilo boxes.
Finally, Tesco’s Community Food Connection programme, launched in 2016, in partnership with food redistribution charity FareShare and social enterprise FoodCloud, connects Tesco stores to local charities and community groups, enabling the supermarket to redistribute food that is left over at the end of the day. What’s more, food that is not taken by charities, is offered to colleagues, dramatically reducing food going in the bin.
In a May 2018 press release, Tesco declared it collectively donated 7,975 tonnes of food (19 million meals) to almost 7,000 charities from their stores and distribution centres nationwide.