Arla tackles food waste with change to best before labels in UK industry first

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For as long as it has been legally necessary to have “use by” or “best before” on pack, milk has always been sold with a “use by” date. However, with research from WRAP suggesting that as much as 7% of milk produced in the UK going to waste down our sinks, Arla and its farmer owners have taken the decision to change its branded milk labels from “use by” to “best before” dates. The new ‘best before’ labels will roll-out across all of Arla’s branded fresh milk including Cravendale, BOB and Goodness, with a commitment to also switch over the entire yogurt portfolio in 2020. 

Fran Ball, director of quality, environment and health and safety at Arla Foods UK, explains: “In selecting use by dates, we’ve created a system in dairy where we are telling consumers there is an immediate danger to their health by consuming milk after the use by date. This is simply not true, and a “best before” label is more appropriate in that it tells people the date until which they can expect the food to maintain its best quality. If moving to “best before” encourages us all to sniff or taste test to see if the milk is still good for a few further days rather than throw it away, then it’s the right thing to be doing as we all work towards a more sustainable future.”

The move comes as Arla’s own research shows that whilst three-quarters (77%) of respondents check food and drink packaging before they purchase, only 15% are confident they can decipher everything on the label. This includes ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates with over a third (34%) of Brits unsure of the difference, and 11% believing them to be the same thing. This confusion means a third (34%) end up binning food if past its ‘best before’ date, while another 38% do the same once the product has passed its ‘use by’ date.

To help the 34% of people unsure of the meaning of best before, Arla is also going one step further calling on the nation to go online to vote for the label they want to see on milk bottles.

Fran Ball continues, “It takes a lot of hard work, love and care to produce milk to Arla’s high quality standards. The thought of so much good milk going to waste is difficult for our farmers to accept and a waste of the natural resources that go into the process. We’re looking for a way to prompt people to take a step back before they dispose of their milk, to have a sniff or taste and check their milk before they throw it away. In asking people to vote for the label option they think best explains best before, we hope to have the greatest possible impact on reducing food waste and we hope the wider industry will follow us in making this decision to use best before labelling.”

Food waste has always been high on Arla’s agenda with the company taking significant steps to reduce waste that is an inevitable part of the production process. Working with Fareshare, Arla redistributes products still good enough to eat but not needed by our customers and in doing so

provided 424 tonnes of food to Fareshare in 2018, enough to make just over 1,000,000 meals for people in need.

David Moon, head of business collaboration at WRAP, said: “WRAP’s research has found that the way food and drink products are labelled can make a significant difference to waste levels at home. Our industry guidance on the choice and application of date labels favours products carrying a Best Before label; wherever food safety is not compromised. Best Before labels give people more flexibility around food as they are a quality indicator, not a safety marker. Moving from a Use By to a Best Before label needs to be done with food safety front of mind, but it is a move we welcome and which we have seen done successfully for other products. It is good to see Arla taking steps to make this move in a considered way on their own products. Poor understanding of the difference between Best Before and Use By labels has also been a long-standing challenge and so awareness-raising of this kind is hugely important.”

The labels will change by the end of the year, so waste is not created from labels already printed, with all yogurts in the Arla brand are also committing to make the switch in 2020.