Supermarket inflation is expected to reach the highest level since at least 2008 this month (August) after a tumultuous period for the food industry, which has ravaged the sector’s supply chains and caused food prices to soar at alarming rates.

Meanwhile, high rates of food waste mean that many UK families are wasting millions of pounds every year, not to mention the devastating cost of waste to the environment. Some supermarkets are responding to the issues and aiming to combat this waste by removing use-by dates on certain products to encourage consumers to think twice before they throw perfectly good food away, while the cost-of-living crisis is prompting many people to explore food-sharing apps.

So, could supply issues and rising living costs lead to a change in consumer shopping habits?

Food supply chain issues

The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a profound effect on the global food supply chain, with oil and gas prices affecting manufacturing, transportation and agricultural supply chains. This has led to the average UK food bill rising by £454, and exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis.

Alarmingly, food poverty has reached unprecedented levels with the foodbank charity the Trussell Trust reporting that over the last year it has distributed more food parcels than any other year recorded pre-2020.

It’s clear that action must be taken, particularly when the 2 million tonnes of perfectly good food that’s thrown away each year in the UK could be used to fund 1.3 billion meals.

Food waste: the rotten facts

There is a serious economic and environmental cost to food waste. 

Globally the amount of food that’s wasted is alarming, with a third of all food produced thrown away, of which much of this is often perfectly good for consumption.

In the UK, the economic cost of food waste is significant, with the average UK family spending £470 on groceries that ultimately won’t be consumed, while supermarkets are waste almost 240,000 tonnes of products.

This waste also has an environmental cost as a huge proportion of discarded food ends up at landfill sites, where it will degrade over time and it’s during this process of ‘degradation’ that toxic methane gas is released into the atmosphere.

Given that if the amount of food we throw away were a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases, really highlights the sheer quantity of waste and how much damage its doing to the planet.

Supermarkets removing use-by dates

A number of Britain’s supermarkets have taken the step of getting rid of use-by labels to help reduce the amount of food we waste in this country.

Morrisons axed use by dates on 90% of its own brand milk from 31st January onwards, with a sniff-test the recommended way to decide whether milk should be poured away. Meanwhile, from September Waitrose will remove use-by dates on 500 fresh food products, which, it’s hoped, will reduce the amount of good fruit and veg that’s thrown in the bin.

Instead of use by dates, staff at M&S will have a code to ensure food is of good quality and remains fresh after the retailer announced in July that they will be scrapping best before labels on 300 in a bid to reduce food waste.

This is a step in the right direction from UK food retailers, with Co-op and Tesco also planning to make similar changes.

The rise of food-sharing apps

Amid the cost-of-living crisis, there’s also been a growth in the number and popularity of food-sharing websites and apps as families look to cut back on their shopping bill.

One of which is Too Good to Go, an app that allows restaurants and takeaways to sell unsold food to local customers, at a reduced price, to prevent it from going to waste. 

Too Good to Go also teams up with these businesses to advise them on how best to go about reducing their food waste.

According to research by Gumtree, 57% of people say they’ve re-thought how they’ve shopped as prices have risen, with 44% saying they’re now willing to purchase more second-hand items than they would have a year ago.

It’s clear that the cost-of-living crisis is forcing Britons’ hand in potentially reducing their food waste by using food-sharing apps such as Too Good to Go and OLIO.

There are also reassuring signs that supermarkets are taking steps to prevent consumers throwing away perfectly good products by removing use-by dates.

Food habits are seemingly already starting to change with the rise of anti-food waste apps, and supermarkets taking action to ensure consumers don’t throw food away unnecessarily.

However, the problem is far from solved and it’s important that more is done to help tackle and minimise waste in the UK.