Forman & Field managing director Lance Forman on relieving food wastage


- Credit: Carmen Valino - on shift

I hate waste. Reports in the media about how much food is wasted, not only by Tesco but by Tesco consumers, are appalling. But this is not about Tesco, it’s about food culture and much of this is driven by misguided European legislation.

A few years back my firm was approached to supply a supermarket group with smoked salmon. Having negotiated all the terms of the deal, the last question which arose was how long do we give as the shelf life of our product, ie what date do we put on our “use by” label? We said we give our product 14 days, to which the potential client responded that they need longer. We said that we could extend to 21 days but we’d rather consumers enjoy our product when it’s fresher, as it tastes better. The potential client said they needed 100 days. We gasped and said that even up to 45 days, our product is not going to cause any health risks, but 100 days…

The representative from the supermarket explained that their typical shopper will come into the supermarket and, arriving at the smoked salmon shelf, flick through all the packs looking for the one with the longest date. They will make the incorrect assumption that if it still has 98 days left to go, it must be much fresher than a pack which only has 14 days left on it, so the short shelf life ones won’t sell.

I am sure we are all guilty of this misjudgment when we buy milk, for example. We seek out the bottle with the longest date assuming it’s fresher and so perfectly good milk runs out of life too early and gets wasted. A simple solution would be to place production dates on packaging, not “use by” dates, and then educate consumers about the safe life of food. European food labelling legislation has got this wrong. The system was probably best before.