The Co-op is to offer all food approaching its use-by or best-before date to food distribution charities, in what it claimed was a landmark move to combat food waste.
Under the new Co-op Food Share scheme, the retailer will allow selected store charity partners to take as much of the food as they want, every day, from two hours before stores close.
The Co-op said it had decided to take products off sale earlier to allow food to get to charities in time for them to cook or freeze.
Charities will collect from multiple stores, regularly, with flexible collection times.
Food Share will have a phased roll out during the year, it said, following a successful trial at 50 branches with local charities and community groups, but will cover 1,500 towns, villages and cities by the end of 2018.
“It’s unbelievable that over a third of the food produced around the world goes to waste. We’re calling time on food waste and will take products off sale earlier to get fresh food within its use-by date to charities in time for them to cook or freeze,” said Co-op CEO Steve Murrells.
“At the Co-op we want to strengthen and support communities and we are committed to tacking food waste and ensuring food gets into the hands of those who need it most.
“We work hard to reduce waste but believe any food we don’t sell should end up feeding people, wherever possible. We’ve been listening to our charity partners and community groups and they tell us that, in order to create healthy and nutritious meals, they need access to fresh food. Now we’re making that possible.”
Laura Winningham, CEO of London-based hunger relief charity, City Harvest, said: “We’ve helped trial the scheme and we are absolutely thrilled to see the programme roll out across the rest of the UK. Often, charities like ours are inundated with bread and bakery items but what we desperately need, to be able to provide people nutritious hearty meals, is a wider range of fresh produce.
“Creating a flexible system to allow charities access to surplus meat, salads, fruit and vegetables means more good food can help meet the growing demand out in the community.It’s great to think that organisations like ours, all over the country, will be able to build strong working relationships with their local Co-op stores, which will deliver immeasurable amounts of benefit to those most in need.”
Co-op is already a key signatory of The Grocer’s campaign to tackle food waste - Waste Not, Want Not. Tesco, another key supporter of The Grocer’s campaign, already donates all its unsold food to charities under its FareShare FoodCloud system, which alerts charities to food available for collection at its stores, two hours before the end of its use-by or sell-by dates.