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Why Ditching Best Before Dates Might Increase Food Poverty For Some..

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Supermarket shopping - removal of best before dates

I recently wrote a post about supermarkets removing the best before date from products such as fruit and vegetables, and the positive aspects of this, which include the decrease in the number of food products being thrown away by households and, of course, the supermarkets themselves, which in turn is likely to save everyone money, with the average family throwing away around £60 with of food every month, which is a vast amount of money when you work out the number of households there are in the UK, and the monstrous amount of that food that equates to as a nation!

Ditching supermarket best before dates

So a very positive step in the right direction of reducing waste and saving money; however, I was lying in bed thinking about this particular story (yes, I know that is a bit sad, but we bloggers struggle to switch off sometimes), and it suddenly dawned on me, that actually this isn't necessarily a positive move for everyone.

I worked for a supermarket for a couple of years and was a code checker, meaning I was the chap who took the short-dated products off the shelf and applied the reduced to clear yellow stickers to get the products sold and gone from the store before they had to be thrown away.

I left the supermarket role in April of 2022, and in the months leading up to my leaving, I noticed a very large number of people coming into the store in search of yellow sticker bargains to help stretch their food budget. A year or so before, we would have a regular group of people coming into the store daily, of around a dozen or so; when I left, we had about sixty + people in daily to grab a bargain, and not just because they fancied a deal, these are the people who cannot afford not to be buying yellow sticker items, as these products are a vital part of their food intake for their family to be able to eat.

Many people reading this may well be thinking that this is a bit of an exaggeration, and I would, too, had I not been one of these people just a few years ago. I lost my business, was declared bankrupt, and had just pennies spare weekly to feed the family once all the bills were paid. So I was hugely reliant on grabbing yellow sticker bargains from local supermarkets and convenience stores on a daily basis to ensure that we had food! When you have only £1 in your pocket to feed your family that night, yellow stickers were the only way I could afford to put food on the table. I remember the sickening feeling of desperation when there was little choice of reduced food or nothing suitable.

Yellow sticker shopping at risk from the removal of best before dates on food

This is my worry, the removal of best before dates on food products means that the products that until now were always yellow stickered daily will be less likely to be reduced in price, as they no longer have a date advertised, that the code checker needs to adhere to, and products will be left on the shelf for longer, so are more likely to be sold before needing to be reduced, with the knock-on effect that those people relying on reduced to clear food, are going to find slimmer pickings on food, at a time when actually the need for reduced food has never been higher, in recent times!

Now obviously, supermarkets aren't in the business of wanting products to be sold at a reduced price, they are there to make a profit, and the lower the amount of reduced and wasted food, the better it is for the company and shareholders, and they will do whatever they can to not reduce their products until absolutely necessary, and that's a part of the reason why best before dates are being scrapped, they do want us to make better use of our purchases, but equally they want to reduce their waste and reductions as well.

Therefore it is going to get more difficult for those who need to buy yellow sticker bargains to grab a deal; it's the problem of increased demand and yet decreased availability of cheaper/reduced food, and this isn't a good mix for discount shoppers.

There are other options, luckily, that these shoppers can investigate in order to try and keep food on the table.

There are a couple of food waste apps that could help:

Too Good To Go is an app where you can purchase clearance food at a significant discount off RRP from a range of supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants, saving you some cash. It's a bit of a gamble as to what you will receive, as you purchase a 'Magic Bag' which will contain a selection of products that the company needs to clear, which otherwise may be thrown away, and the bag will vary daily. Some days you may have a wide range of products, the next you might end up with a whole bag of bread rolls, so it can't be relied on for being able to feed the family in a varied way, but if nothing else, you are helping to save food from being wasted!

I have found that because you can't see what you are getting, it's a risk as you may well find that you would have picked up more relevant bargains by shopping the yellow sticker route, but if these yellow sticker items are dwindling in numbers, then it's an option. As someone that has made up the 'Magic Bags' in the past, for the supermarket I worked at, these bags are also one of the reasons that the number of yellow sticker bargains has reduced, as many of the products that would typically be stickered and put out to clear, go straight to the magic bag, and not the shelf, which reduces down the amount being offered to shoppers. Hence, it's a bit of a catch-22!

Another option is Olio, another food waste reduction app, but with the benefit of all the food on the app being free! Food is collected by Olio volunteers from participating supermarkets and stores and is distributed to those needing some extra food. App users can also advertise any excess food they have available via the app, ensuring that food isn't wasted and those in need can get some extra support.

Food banks are often in the news these days, as they are another way to be able to grab some free, or heavily reduced in price, food. With more and more people starting to rely on food banks to feed their families, and with further energy price increases likely to push millions more people into food poverty and debt, the food banks are facing a massive challenge to be able to obtain enough food to keep up with demand. So even this option may be limited as time goes on.

Citizens Advice offer help in regards to food banks, and organisations such as The Trussell Trust, The Food Aid Network and Fare Share offer some really helpful advice and information.

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