One-third of food is wasted. One million tonnes annually in Ireland. So much effort and production that comes to nothing. Such avoidable waste. Money for nothing. Your money. Consumers suffer much of the cost of food waste, and retailers also bear unnecessary costs. The environment is damaged by the production, transport, and storage of food that will be wasted. The environment also carries the cost of disposal of unused surpluses and of unnecessary waste.
We could reduce levels of waste considerably through gradual changes in habits. It is unrealistic to expect to eliminate all wastage or avoid all surpluses. Change must be practical and straightforward. Changes you make should have noticeable benefits. Your simple changes should save money, time and reduce food waste. To make the right changes, we need to share better information.
Consumers and retailers are on the same side. Retailers want successful businesses and loyal customers. Successful businesses anticipate and match consumer demands. Consumers want quality and variety, and fair prices. We are not prepared to sacrifice choice or taste, we simply need to be more aware of what we eat.
No-one deliberately buys inedible food, and people don’t buy food that they do not expect to eat. But we do buy food we will not eat, and we buy food that becomes inedible in our own homes. We take home more than we could or would use. Food that inevitably ends up surplus on our plates. Food that is eventually dumped into the bin, straight from our fridges, our shelves, and our cupboards. It’s almost as if we are buying waste, not food, taking home that waste, leaving it around for a while and then dumping it.
With better information, we can do better. For example, retailers could make clear that a “best before” date is relevant to taste, texture and quality, but that a “use by”’ date is a health issue - the product may be unfit to eat after this date. As another example, retailers could offer guidance on storage at home of fresh produce - fridge, cupboard or whatever.
Smart Store Cooking was recently involved in a pilot project at O’Keeffe’s SuperValu in Millstreet, Co Cork, aimed at raising awareness about food waste. Through in-store promotion, benefitting from signage that displayed key messages and from on the spot advice, we were able to promote ways consumers could achieve and benefit from changes to habits, resulting in less waste and saving themselves time and money. This is the sort of information initiative that increases trust in retailers and that enables consumers to make better food choices.