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Supermarket news

The summer has seen a plethora of new reports about supermarkets – one looking at ready meals, another on how they are dealing with food waste and a third looking at the human suffering in supermarket supply chains.

Ready Meals – ready in minutes, but not ready for the future

Eating Better, an alliance of more than 50 organisations, surveyed 1,350 ready meals from UK supermarkets and found that not only was the availability of vegetarian/plant-based choices limited, but they were often sold at premium prices and, with meat dishes, the provenance was not always clear.

Meat was the main ingredient in 77% of the own-brand and branded ready meals from 10 retailers (Asda, Aldi, The Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose).

Image: ready meals

Overall, only 3% of ready meals were vegan, with Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s offering the largest number. No vegan options were found in Iceland and only one in M&S.

Startlingly, only three retailers (M&S, Waitrose and The Co-op) include meat sourced for their own-brand ready meals in their farm animal welfare policies. While retailers are generally keen to promote the provenance and quality of their fresh meat, the research found that this didn’t apply to meat used as an ingredient in ready meals.

Nearly 30% of meat-based ready meals did not indicate the country of origin of their meat. The Co-op and Waitrose were the only retailers found to use British meat in all of their own-brand ready meals. Read the full report

Food waste

Food poverty charity, Feedback, has ranked the UK’s top ten supermarkets on their work to reduce food waste.

Image: supermarkets

The ranking assessed the supermarkets’ publicly available data against the food-use hierarchy, which requires prevention to be the priority.

Tesco is ranked at number one, while Waitrose came out at the bottom, although it did not perform dramatically worse than most other retailers. Other supermarkets known for their strong reputations on sustainability, including Co-op and Marks & Spencer, also scored poorly. 

The ranking assessed the supermarkets against four categories of best practice in addressing waste.

The categories were:

  • action to prevent food waste, such as measuring and publishing data and adopting targets;
  • action to make sure that edible surplus food reaches people in need through charities, rather than being thrown away;
  • action to redirect suitable inedible food surplus to be made into animal feed;
  • action to avoid edible food being used to produce biogas instead of being eaten.

The survey found that large quantities of edible food, nearly 20,000 tonnes in 2017, were being used to produce biogas rather than feed people. In addition, very few supermarkets were found to be making best use of inedible food waste, some of which can be made into animal feed.

No supermarket is currently adequately addressing the ways that the supermarket model causes food waste in the home due to:

  • Confusing, over-cautious and unnecessary ‘best before’ date labels.
  • Marketing strategies that encourage over-purchase e.g. ‘two-for-one’ offers.

This report is a challenge to supermarkets to show us that they can be part of a less wasteful food system. Read the full report (2021 version). 

Ripe for change

Oxfam's fourth 'Beyond the Barcodes' scorecard report on supermarkets was published in April 2022. It assesses the supply chain policies of six major UK supermarkets, to help improve human rights for food workers across the globe.

The campaign focuses on six of the UK’s biggest supermarkets – Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – highlighting the human suffering behind supermarket food and calling on the retailers to use their leverage to ensure workers’ rights are respected. These six supermarkets account for over 80% of the UK's grocery market share.

The report looked at four key areas:

  • transparency - including with consumers about where food comes from
  • conditions for workers
  • conditions for small-scale farmers
  • tackling discrimination against women

Five of the supermarkets have improved their scores since 2018, the first year of the report, with Asda's scores not being comparable as it was previously owned by Walmart.

Full details of the scoring can be found on Oxfam's web pages Behind the Barcodes scorecard.

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