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Consumers Taking Heed of Advice to Look Beyond Use-By Dates

17 October 2012

  • 87% of UK consumers at least “sometimes” eat and drink products that have expired
  • Seniors and the middle classes are most likely to completely disregard these dates

New research conducted by consumer experts Canadean Consumer has revealed that most people in the UK are prepared to eat and drink products that have gone past their use-by dates. The study of 2,000 consumers shows that it is older citizens who are likeliest to consume out-of-date products, and that results across social statuses indicate that the decision not to throw products away is not only about cost.

Canadean Consumer’s study on attitudes towards use-by dates shows that only 13.5% of UK consumers “never” eat or drink products that have expired. Instead, the biggest proportion (49.6%) “sometimes” consume products “slightly past” their use-by dates.

Interestingly, many are now heeding the advice of the government – who last year proposed scrapping sell-by dates – with 15.9% of the population “often” eating and drinking “slightly” gone-off products, and nearly one-in-10 (8.8%) “often” consuming food and drink “well past” their use-by dates.

At the most extreme end of the scale, older consumers (those aged 55+) are more than twice as likely as 18-24 and 25-34 year olds to “often” eat products “well beyond” their expiry dates, and three times as likely as 35-44 year olds to do so. The propensity for seniors to trust their own “feel” for food and drink suitability is a significant factor here.

According to Mark Whalley, Lead Consultant at Canadean Consumer, the results could indicate that consumers are being conscientious about several issues: “Our awareness of the undesirability of wasting food is growing, thanks to the likes of Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), who should be pleased that its message is getting through. The economic crisis, in conjunction with high food inflation, is making us far more discerning. And ethical considerations are prominent – consumers do not want animals to be needlessly slaughtered, and many are sceptical that use-by dates are a sales ploy to get us to buy products more regularly.”

In fact, the study shows that the main consideration is likely not about cost. Indeed, consumers in the ABC1 (middle class) social grade were more likely than C2DE (working class) consumers to “often” eat produce beyond its use-by date – 26% compared to 22%. Therefore, the notion that wealthier consumers throw away more gone-off products because they can afford to is a misconception.

Whalley concludes: “This isn’t to say that the battle has been won – far from it. DEFRA claims that UK households throw away five million tonnes of edible food every year. However, these results paint UK consumers in a more positive light. Resourcefulness benefits everyone, so we should try to build on these encouraging findings.”

Figure 1: Half of all UK consumers at least “sometimes” eat and drink food and beverages that have slightly exceeded their use-by date (% UK respondents) 2012

 News 12

Source: Canadean © Canadean

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