Report investigates waste impact of promotions

A new report from WRAP has raised questions over the assumption that supermarket promotions cause food waste.

The report revealed that  £12 billion worth of edible food is thrown away by UK households each year, with around £6.7bn thrown away ‘unsused’. This includes 66,000 tonnes of pork, ham and bacon per year at a cost of £320 million, and 42,000 tonnes of poultry at a cost of £190 million.

One aspect thought to be responsible for much of this wasted food is supermarket promotions, which now account for more than 30% of sales. Indeed, the report revealed that 44% of survey respondents agreed that “buying food on offer leads to more food being thrown away”, with 90% saying they buy more when they’re on special offer.

However, only 4% of consumers said that more food is thrown away when extra items are bought on special offer, and researchers found no evidence that food bought on promotion is more likely to be wasted.

Additionally, the survey found that temporary price reductions account for the majority of promotional sales (18%), with BOGOFS, extra free and multi-buy offers used to a realtively low extent (2%, 3% and 5% repectively).

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has seized on the results, claiming that they prove that the debate about food waste should focus on helping households to reduce the amount they throw away rather than blaming supermarket promotions.

The BRC's head of environment, Bob Gordon, said: “This research is extremely helpful. It clearly shows that, while people assume other shoppers are wasting food they buy on promotion, over 90 per cent are not wasting it themselves. Households throw away 30 per cent of the food they buy. This new evidence demonstrates BOGOFs are not to blame.

“The amount of food waste produced by households has been coming down – with the help of retailers – but there’s more to do. Our critics should join us in addressing the real reasons for food waste. We need to educate people to shop smarter and do better at managing the storage and use of food in their homes rather than blaming promotions.

“Price competition between the supermarkets is keeping costs down for hard-pressed consumers at a time when fuel and utility bills are sky-high. There are loads of promotions on the shelves because they’re highly valued by customers. Let’s stop wasting time talking about promotions causing food waste when it’s clearly not the issue.”

However, WRAP said that the results may have been skewed by innacurate reporting of food waste by consumers and should be regarded as “tentative”. It urged retailers to be conscious of the potential for promotions to lead to food waste and to take this into account when planning promotional strategies.