Background

Businesses are scaling up efforts to tackle citizen food waste in order to achieve national reduction targets under Courtauld 2025 and Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

In partnership with WRAP, we developed a realistic understanding of how people actually interact with and use date labels in order to suggest actions that food retailers can take to reduce household food waste.

Insight

Every year, 7.1 million tonnes of food is thrown away from households.

Around 2 million tonnes are wasted because of not being used in time, and for a third of that food, date labelling is cited as a factor.

Date labels are important in ensuring food quality and safety, but while the technical definitions of date labels are clear, human behaviour is complex and may not follow the logic we expect. We started this project by reviewing recent research in this area. Among other things, we found that:

  • The presence of a date label of any type does influence behaviour, making people less likely to discard food before the date and more likely to discard it afterwards
  • However an important minority of people appear not to understand the difference in definitions between Use By and Best Before Dates
  • People make different decisions for products in different categories. They rely more on date labels for some categories and trust their sensory information and judgement more for others

Intervention

Reducing food waste will ultimately result from a combination of technical changes to products and packaging, and citizen engagement to improve awareness, understanding and use of date labels. This project was focussed on the latter and our evidence review helped us to identify potential opportunities to positively influence behaviour.

Through a series of workshops with WRAP we developed a long list of opportunities, from which prioritised:

  • Helping people see and act on the difference between Use By and Best Before
  • Helping people to use date labels to act in time to avoid food waste

We then developed these opportunities and ideas on how to execute them into ready to go pitches to take to retailers and manufacturers.

Implementation

WRAP are now taking these ideas forward and propose them to their signatories and partners.  

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