It’s no surprise that Supermarkets are one of the main facilitators in an ever-present unsustainable food system. I am currently an employee at a local branch of a major Supermarket. Here, I will hold my hands up and say that, before I began my module on Food Security and Food Justice, I gave little thought to the impact my actions were having on the amount of waste food created by supermarkets daily. Therefore, I speak from experience when addressing the contributing factors to food waste found in my store. A mini research project if you will; concerned with the impact of Stock Replenishment/Rotation, Labelling/Reductions and Disposals/Initiatives. I want to show that, at its core, food waste is a behavioral issue that supermarkets aren’t doing enough to amend.
Stock Replenishment / Rotation
We are driven by aesthetics, something supermarkets utilize as a marketing tool; however, this also contributes massively to food waste. Research shows that customers are more likely to buy produce that is stacked high and plentiful . This expectation to provide such an excess of food means supermarkets often order too much and over display food.
Supermarkets halfhearted efforts to combat this self-inflicted problem is through employees rotating stock. Moving produce closer to its ‘Use by’ date to the front makes it the first thing customers see and buy. Few people fall for this however, with savvy shoppers rummaging to find the product which will last the longest. And why shouldn’t they? It would be a wasted opportunity and a waste of money for a customer to pick the shortest lasting date. Supermarkets would be wise to readdress how they replenish stock and to not under estimate their shoppers. Putting out single dated stock would save a lot of products going to waste. Stock rotation is not enough and is often done incorrectly. Limit choice, limit waste.
Labels & Reductions
A huge contributor to the surplus of food waste is the lack of standardization and incorrect labeling of food products, especially when it comes to ‘Best by’ and ‘Use by’ dates. We have become dependent on supermarkets to control our relationship with food, giving them undeserved authority. ‘Best by’ dates are merely an indication of quality not expiration whereas ‘Use by’ dates are an official safety recommendation for food consumption. Supermarkets want us to buy more so their ‘Best by’ dates are often defined by this and are often used to push sales. Many supermarkets have set out to amend this: Tesco have banned the use of ‘Best by’ dates to simplify labelling and Sainsburys have started to offer advice and recommendations on best by products in order to alter attitudes. It’s a great start but we are still waiting for other supermarkets to follow suit as this confusion of dates and lack of understanding is often a large contributor to food waste. Solution revisit labels to educate customers.
Supermarkets excessive replenishing of stock and usage of ‘Best by’ and ‘Use by’ dates often cause a large quantity of items destined for reduction, something we do at regular intervals. I am a reduced section scavenger; I’m well aware that there’s something behind the psychology of the reduced sticker that makes shoppers buy excessively and often thoughtlessly. Reductions are a tool that prima-facie show supermarkets attempting to reduce food waste. However, it regularly leaves perfect food for disposal. Unfortunately, food waste doesn’t stop in store, reduced sections simply shift responsibility of food waste from supermarkets to costumers. The only way supermarkets can utilize a reduced section as an effective food waste tool is if they correctly educate people and to help break down stigma associated with most reduced items.
Disposals and Initiatives
To deal with the food left for disposal many supermarkets provide initiatives aiming to prevent it going to waste. Despite being a small store, my work is still expected to follow through with these initiatives. In the stock room of my store there is a poster which clearly asks what connections we have with food waste charities. Sadly, this poster is blank, and when I asked about it, I was met with shrugs, laughs and to be perfectly honest a lazy and uninterested attitude. I doubt however that my stores attitude is an anomaly. Supermarkets every day waste perfectly good food for avoidable reasons.
I’m aware that many charities take only specific donations, and this often is not what supermarkets have available, making maintaining partnerships difficult. However, poor attitudes or a lack of knowledge are not valid excuses. Tighter regulations need to be enforced to show that every store has a partner charity or an initiative that helps reduce food waste and employees should be made aware of the importance of this. In terms of addressing my own stores attitude I came across The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP). TRJFP is set up in Sheffield and in other cities across the UK. The project intercepts what would be food waste from supermarkets. They make their own judgement on what is fit for human consumption and then filter them into many food waste reduction pathways.
TRJFPs Fuel For School project corresponds with the argument that food waste is primarily behavioural. Education is a tool for deterring attitudes and perceptions surrounding food waste. Supermarkets miss the mark when it comes to tackling this, often facilitating a particularly redundant relationship between food and customers. TRJFP began working with Primary Schools to prevent a negative relationship with food; offering open days and pop up markets.
If supermarkets cannot sell or take responsibility for the consumption of waste foods, then they should step up and join forces with projects such as this, being active advocates and advertising them too. This would tackle negative attitudes and subsequently begin to dint in the overall problem of food waste. Food waste should not be the full burden of charities and initiatives like TRJFP, therefore Supermarkets need to take a long look at themselves and the uniformity across all their stores.