How independent retailers can help UK consumers manage food waste

30 January 2023, 07:31 AM
  • With food waste a real problem for shoppers and retailers alike, we explore how indies can offer a solution
How independent retailers can help UK consumers manage food waste

With December seeing the highest annual food price increase to 13.3% since the start of records in 2005, it has never been more important for Brits to get the most out of each food shop and avoid waste.

The problem of food waste
New data has revealed that on average each UK household throws away 28.1kg of food waste each month, 70% of which is still fully edible. 

According to the research, the most wasted foods are fresh foods as they’re not as commonly frozen, drastically reducing shelf-life. In fact, a quarter (25%) of food waste is from vegetables and a further 22% is from fruit. Similarly, 17% is categorised as leafy greens and 23% from oven-baked goods such as cakes, bread, and leftovers. 

In fact, as Christina O’Sullivan, communications manager at Feedback Global, told Speciality Food, “The global food system is responsible for up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions – wasted food represents a tragic waste of natural resources such as land and water and is also an environmental disaster. 

“For shoppers, simply put, wasted food is wasted money, but also with people keen to reduce their environmental impact, wasting less food is a great place to start.”

How indies can help
The new stats show the extent of Britain’s ongoing food waste issues – but independents are in a prime position to help.

As Peter McTurk, owner of Calcott Hall and council member at the Farm Retail Association (FRA), explained, “At farm shops and independents you still get the interactions with experts from butchers to delis to cheese counters. 

“This means you can speak to the experts directly; you can bring in your own containers which saves on plastics and is more sustainable and allows you to choose how much or how little food you want to put in it. You’re reducing waste and buying what you need.”

Christina echoed these thoughts. “People can purchase fresh produce in smaller quantities so they are only buying what they need, and delis are in a good position to repurpose surplus for example turning squishy tomatoes into soup or stable bread into croutons,” she said.

Peter added, “Furthermore, some food guidance on certain products has changed so that we can label food with Best Before instead of Use By where appropriate which gives more flexibility when food may just have reduced in quality but won’t be dangerous to eat if you are past the date. 

“You wouldn’t eat anything that had mould on, but there are times when some fresh and dairy produce in particular will still be absolutely fine sometimes for weeks after the date. This will encourage consumers to check themselves and not be led by the date itself, and help reduce waste.”

Another key benefit of independents such as farm shops and delis is their focus on seasonality. According to Lucy, “Independent retailers can champion seasonal and locally grown produce among their customers with recipes and information on how to cook certain things. 

“This leads to less food waste on farms when certain crops are in season and farmers have gluts. Food in season often tends to be cheaper. They can also work with farmers to sell ‘wonky’ produce at a discounted price to customers.”

Peter agreed, “We would encourage customers to be mindful of when food is in season and therefore tastes at its best which will encourage less waste. 

“Overall, buying local will save on food miles both in terms of where the produce is coming from (usually local farmers and producers) and where it’s going. All very sustainable and cost-effective.”

close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing