Shoppers Seeking ‘Best-Before Date’ Bargains

Feb 09, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing
Editor, RetailWire

It looks as if many consumers are making
their money go further by making their food go further — further from
their best-before dates, that is. Stories in The Guardian and The
the ways in which websites are selling food at prices well below supermarkets
on the basis that it has gone beyond its peak of perfection while still
remaining perfectly edible.

It is now widely recognized that best-before
and sell-by dates are primarily for retailers’ information. Only use-by
reflects safety. Even official government advice confirms that food beyond
its best-before date will be safe to eat when stored correctly, although
anything beyond its use-by date should not be eaten.

Business is so good for bargain websites
that says its year on year sales for the last week of
December increased by 500 percent. Approvedfood and
have posted apologies because high demand is causing backlogs and extended
delivery times.

Both sites offer "clearance, short-dated
and out-of-date food and drink" as a way to cut costs and reduce waste.
The Guardian points to campaigners’ approval of the trend on the
basis that "it can help to reduce Britain’s huge mountain of food waste."

According to The Independent, government
figures show that 370,000 tonnes of food is thrown away each year in the
UK after passing its "best-before" date, as well as 220,000 tonnes that
is close to, but still within, its "use by" date.

Products range from canned foods such as
tuna to packs of soup, toilet paper and pet food with brand names such
as Heinz, McVities, Baxters, Nescafe and Cadbury.

While chocolate bars, chips and fizzy drinks
proliferate, Approvedfood also has a healthy eating range comprising of
crispbread, sushi nori roasted seaweed, canned celeria strips and cold-pressed
extra virgin olive oil amongst other less run of the mill items.

Approvedfood’s founder, Dan Cluderay, assures
customers that "We never sell anything past its ‘use-by’ date … but the
‘best-before’ date simply refers to the product’s optimum quality. Products
past this date are still perfectly fine to consume and it’s very unusual for
anyone to be able to tell the difference." He also claims that customers saved
an average of 75 percent on recommended retail prices.

Discussion Questions:
Do websites selling food past its best-before date have an attraction
for bargain-hunting Americans? Do such sites present a threat to retailers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "Shoppers Seeking ‘Best-Before Date’ Bargains"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 3 months ago

Doesn’t this remind you of the 1980s when senior citizens were eating dog food because they couldn’t afford human food? I’m all for waste reduction, but this strikes me less like bargain hunting and more a sad commentary on our times.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 3 months ago

To me, the various ways that products are dated here in the U.S. is so confusing (“best buy,” “purchase by,” etc.) that making sense of it all would be compelling in and of itself. In a health food store a few weeks ago, I called out to the manager that an entire wall of products had expired. The cashier’s face lit up and later, she told me that she hated to admit it but she was glad…all of it was going home with her.

I definitely see a market; just a matter of getting the word out to the right people.

Steve Montgomery
11 years 3 months ago

The sale of short coded merchandise also occurs here in the U.S. Retailers/diverters have access to “hot sheets” listing short coded merchandise.

There are even a few retailers whose business is built around selling short coded items. The good news is assuming it sells, and is consumed before its “use by” date, then the retailer has low cost goods to sell and the consumer is able to afford items that they might not have be able to do so otherwise.

Interestingly, I was in a meeting the other day where a distributor stated that it is common for wholesalers to sell shorter coded items to high volume retailers because they are the ones that will move it faster.

Al McClain
Al McClain
11 years 3 months ago

I’ve got to agree with Stephen–this all seems rather pitiful to me.

Nobody wants to waste food, but even in donating it to food banks and homeless shelters I would think there are liability issues if something goes bad or someone gets sick from expired product. The legal ramifications of selling “old” product would seem to be huge–what happens the first time a product really IS bad when it’s beyond code?

And, whatever happened to “just-in-time delivery” “efficient supply chain,” “consumer demand management,” etc.? Weren’t these tools supposed to eliminate or at least drastically reduce OOS and all this waste as well?

Roger Saunders
11 years 3 months ago

Selling “out-of-date” merchandise is, quite simply, BAD BUSINESS. The individual companies that make this a practice set themselves up for the crackdown that they will inevitably face. Hopefully, the manufacturers take the action of insisting that these goods be pulled from the market, prior to some government agency stepping in.

Jerome Schindler
11 years 3 months ago
Most nonrefrigerated and frozen food products and even some refrigerated food products can be safely consumed long beyond their “expiration date.” The cereal and crackers may get a little stale, and foods made with oils a little rancid tasting, but that’s about it. I even find that unopened packages of yogurt and sour cream are perfectly fine weeks after their use-by date. The USDA says that refrigerated eggs are good for perhaps a month after their labeled date. Finding a package of expired cheddar cheese (or any hard or process cheese for that matter) at half price is a true gift so long as the package integrity has been maintained and mold is not visible. Any white specs on the surface are merely some of the natural components crystallizing out. Also, refrigerating unopened packages of foods (such as salad dressings) that are labeled “refrigerate after opening” will greatly extend their quality. The FDA requires that all drugs (including over the counter drugs) be labeled with an expiration date. But the potency of that multivitamin does… Read more »
Todd Kluger
Todd Kluger
11 years 3 months ago

Of course this will go over well with Americans. Short-coded or ‘past-prime’ food items are the cornerstone of the successful retail chains like “Grocery Outlet” and all of the “99 cent” stores.

Craig Sundstrom
11 years 3 months ago

While I agree this is (or at least might be) a sad commentary, I think it is a comment on individual dispositions rather than our times. Whatever. I agree with Al; this is a scheme that has “liability problem” written all over it. However much the operators may tell us of their safeguards, specializing in product that is–by definition–already old when acquired seems to be asking for trouble.


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