An estimated 350,000 tonnes of avoidable household food waste, equivalent to around £1bn annually, could be prevented through further changes to food packaging in the shopping aisles in UK supermarkets, according to Waste & Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP’s) latest Retailer Survey.
WRAP have a long-standing history of working with retailers and food manufacturers to help consumers waste less food, and their latest report contains both areas where good work continues to make a difference, whilst also containing parts that need more work done.
Current food packaging
Food packaging has come a long way in recent years, thanks to advancements in technology. For example, the developments in shrink wrap films have greatly benefitted the food sector. Shrink wrap films are currently used on products where they come directly into contact with food (e.g. fruit, vegetables, cheese and pizzas, to name a few) and are fully compliant with all EC Safety Legislations, and produced in BRC accredited plants.
There are also cases where shrink wrap film does not come into direct contact with the food, instead forming a secondary packaging, such as chocolate boxes, tinned drinks and eggs.
Using these films has two distinct advantages: firstly, they provide great optics, meaning they are perfect for displaying at point of sale locations where the products are shown off in their best light. The contained sealing of shrink wrap packaging also allows consumers to see evidence of tampering, giving them greater peace of mind when shopping.
Secondly, they are very thin and strong. This thinner film technology equates to less material being used than would be otherwise, which means lower material costs for both retailers and consumers. As a knock-on effect, less waste material will be put into the waste stream and into landfill sites, meaning it is better for the environment. Shrink wrap film is better even than paper, which is not as strong, more expensive, does not decompose as readily as many imagine and takes up greater space in a landfill.
Because of this, costs are generally reduced for consumers, retailers and manufacturers, as well as offering the best packaging strategy for the environment in general. These advancements in the physical packaging has helped to reduce costs dramatically, but WRAP recommendations look to take it a step further and adjust changes to the information on the packaging.
Below, we have looked at their latest recommendations and how it will help to reduce costs going forward:
Hard cheese and pasteurised fruit juice, two high-volume products, have veered away from predominately having a “Use By” label to specify a “Best Before” date instead. This gives consumers more time to eat the product, as well as showing that the industry can make significant changes to how they date products.
According to the survey, multiple labels on products confused shoppers. Due to this, an almost complete removal of “Display Until” dates used in conjunction with a “Use By” or “Best Before” date. In fact, the number of products found to have two date labels fell from almost 40% in 2009 to less than 3% in 2015.
Progress has been made on when “Open Life” guidance should be given once a product’s packaging has been opened (“once opened use within ‘x’ days”), which should only be used on products where food safety is an issue.
Examples of where the amount of recommended time for keeping food has been reduced include milk, cooking sauces and chilled chicken. This cuts down the time available to eat the food, and with around two million tonnes of food thrown away due to “not being used in time” – and date guidance noted as a factor for this – this remains a significant area to address, according to WRAP.
Smaller Pack Options
There has been an increase in the number of smaller pack options in several categories, such as cheese, mayonnaise, carrots, bagged salad and potatoes. However, the number of smaller pack sizes in some food categories has dropped, especially for pre-packed bread, while world breads and smaller loaves remain significantly more expensive on a per kilo basis than larger loaves, something which WRAP says needs addressing.
Most products carry storage guidance consistent with recommendations from WRAP, but further action needs to be taken on potatoes and bread.
The report found that guidance on refrigerating products is largely consistent with recommendations, but WRAP state that varying temperatures are used on similar products, such as yoghurt, cheese and chilled cooking sauces, and a large percentage were found to cite temperature ranges outside of current guidelines.
This is concerning, as it was found that as few as a third of UK fridges are set within the recommended temperature range (between 3 – 5°C), and another third operate at above 9°C. Using fridges at the correct temperature and storing correct foods in the fridge – which correct labelling can support – can add an average of three days to the life of food, and save households roughly £280m a year.
The report recommends that more action is needed surrounding freezing guidance. While good progress has been made in moving away from “freeze on day of purchase” and to “freeze before the date shown”, more action needs to be taken on meat and bakery products.
The use of the “snowflake logo” to show a product is suitable for home freezing has declined, so there is urgent need to reinforce its value on packs.
Photo courtesy of Paul Townsend on Flickr, under Creative Commons 2.0