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Are 'buy one get one free' offers just filling up your bins?

A House of Lords Committee in the UK has blamed supermarkets for adding to high levels of food waste with these offers but experts in Ireland said everyone has their part to play in reducing this.

Image: Keegan Berry via Flic

IRISH HOUSEHOLDS WASTE about €700 a year throwing out food.

In the UK this week, a House of Lords Committee criticised supermarkets for trying to “pass on” food waste from the store to the household by offering deals like “buy one get one free”.

These deals have been also noted as one of the contributing factors to the levels of food waste in Ireland with consumers buying too much of a perishable product – like fruit or salads – and not being able to use it before it goes off.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Project Manager at the EPA supported Stop Food Waste programme Odile Le Bolloch, said a lot of people “go shopping without really thinking about the week ahead”.

She said the deals can be distracting and often consumers cannot remember what they do have at home in their fridges and cupboards when they are walking up and down the aisles.

However she said she “wouldn’t completely blame” the supermarkets as they are facing a difficult time with customer expectations.

Research has down that consumers expect to see full shelves of perishable foods like bread – even at the end of  a day. In the UK, Tesco has taken the lead by discontinuing special offers on bagged salads once they discovered that they were creating a high level of food waste.

Le Bolloch said this is something she would like to see food retailers in Ireland doing and said there is a “role for supermarkets in educating the public in how to store things fresher for longer”.

From 2015, all major UK supermarkets will report their food waste statistics on an annual basis and she said this would also be a welcome initiative in this country.

Banning these offers is ‘overly simplistic’

Stephen Lynam, Director of Retail Ireland of IBEC, said this is an issue of huge concern to retailers and a lot of work has been done to minimise food that is wasted.

“For example, retailers engage with suppliers to mitigate against over supply to stores and with charities and food banks to allow unsold food to be channelled to them,” he said.

This is a complex issue. It would be bad policy to prevent hard-pressed consumers availing of special offers in this way, and banning or restricting promotions is overly simplistic.

“A better approach would be to educate consumers on the meaning of “use by” and “best before” dates and to ensure shoppers themselves feel informed enough to properly manage the food they buy,” he added.

In the kitchen

Le Bolloch agreed that education was key to reducing waste, commenting that consumers often “over-cautious” about dates as 60 per cent of the food thrown away each year is still edible.

She said one of the main problems now is that people do not know how to cook using up leftovers or food that is not at full freshness.

“People view cooking as time consuming but it doesn’t have to be – we’ve lost that ability to manage food like our grandmothers would have done, making stocks after cooking a chicken and things like that,” she said.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government said it is “unaware f any issues in Ireland regarding promotions of ‘buy one, get one free’ as this would cover a multitude of products and not just perishable goods.

The department also pointed out that “there is substantial legislation covering both domestic and commercial waste”.

For tips on how to reduce your household’s level of food waste, go to the Stop Food Waste website.

Read: Irish households ‘waste €700 a year’ throwing out rotten food>

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