Confusion reigns over labelling despite food waste gains
Food waste is down but consumers are still confused about 'best before' and 'use by' dates, according to the British Retail Consortium.
The BRC made the comment following publication today of the WRAP Retailer Survey 2012 that showed stores had helped consumers slash food waste by 13% or 1.1m tonnes annually.
The BRC said 'best before' and 'use by' - concerned with quality and safety respectively - help consumers reduce food waste and ensure public health.
BRC spokesman Richard Dodd told edie: "People have got very hung up about 'use by dates' and 'best before dates' but they do serve an important purpose. I have heard people say you shouldn't have any of these dates at all but that's nonsense and potentially dangerous".
The WRAP report found that only a third of products surveyed now used 'sell by' or 'display until' dates - which it has recommended are phased out. These dates are used by shop staff and add to consumer confusion.
WRAP head of Love Food Hate Waste Emma Marsh, speaking to edie, agreed that many shoppers are "completely consumed by date labeling." She added: "People tend to default to the idea that that date on the pack must be the 'use by' one. We want to make sure consumers understand the difference."
However, WRAPs research has shown a dramatic increase in consumer understanding of 'best before' so it now stands at 80%. Yet only 50% understand what the 'use by' date means. WRAP will now continue in its education work with other government departments such as the Food Standards Agency and Defra to improve understanding among consumers.
The Survey highlighted the benefits offered by improved packaging and Marsh said WRAP will be working with retailers on improving and standardizing shelf life.
Dodd from the BRC admitted that the current difficult economic climate has encouraged frugality thus reducing wastage, but that was not the entire picture.
He added that retailers now needed to work harder to get more consumers on board. He said: "The real prizes is to be had in the home. This is about persuading a bigger proportion of customers to store and preserve their food more effectively."
The WRAP report found that 96% of products looked at carried clear storage guidance and 47% are re-closeable. Another positive highlighted was the increased availability of smaller portion packs.