The Co-op Group is launching a national food redistribution scheme to help eliminate food waste and support the thousands of small charities and community groups which operate near to its stores.

Called Co-op Food Share, the scheme will donate much-needed fresh foods such as meat, fruit and salads, within use-by and best-before dates, in time for community groups to cook or freeze.

The move will enable groups to make use of as much food as possible by allowing them to collect from multiple stores, regularly, with flexible collection times.

Co-op Food Share will have a phased roll out during 2018 to support the 1,500 towns, villages and cities in which the retailer has stores.

It follows a successful trial at 50 branches with local charities and community groups.

Announcing the scheme, Co-op ceo Steve Murrells said: “We’re calling time on food waste and will take products off sale earlier to get fresh food with its use-by date to charities in time for them to cook or freeze.

“At the Co-op we want to strengthen and support communities and we are committed to tacking food waste and ensuring food gets into the hands of those who need it most.

“We work hard to reduce waste but believe any food that we don’t sell should end up feeding people, wherever possible.

“We’ve been listening to our charity partners and community groups and they tell us that in order to create healthy and nutritious meals they need access to fresh food. Now we are making that possible.”

Laura Winningham, ceo of London-based hunger relief charity, City Harvest, which helped to trial the scheme, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to see the programme roll out across the rest of the UK.

“Often, charities like ours are inundated with bread and bakery items but what we desperately need, to be able to provide people nutritious hearty meals, is a wider range of fresh produce.

“Creating a flexible system to allow charities access to surplus meat, salads and fruit and vegetables means more good food can help to meet the growing demand out in the community.

“It’s great to think that organisations like ours, all over the country, will be able to build strong working relationships with their local Co-op stores which will deliver immeasurable amounts of benefit to those most in need.”

The Co-op already works with hunger fighting charity, FareShare, to redistribute food from its depots. Since 2013 it has provided enough food for over three million meals.

Groups, good causes and charities who can commit to collecting fresh food regularly and provide meals for people in the community on a not-for-profit basis, can apply to be a part of Co-op Food Share by registering their details at: