Southern Co-op_Food Waste

Convenience store shoppers and local good causes are benefitting from discounted food and surplus product as Southern Co-op unveils a new programme to keep as many products as possible in the human food chain.

The independent co-operative, which has just under 200 retail stores, is currently rolling out the new food pathway across all of its stores - starting with products with use-by dates, before targeting food past its best before date.

The first stage was launched last Monday with the start of a full roll out of Too Good To Go Magic Bags. Too Good To Go is the world’s largest surplus food app that lets users rescue surprise ‘Magic Bags’ of unsold food from shops and restaurants so it doesn’t go to waste. Via the free-to-download app, customers can buy surplus food and drink products from local Southern Co-op sites which are near to their expiry date.

The second stage will see the rollout of other initiatives designed to save food that has gone past its best before date - either by reducing it to 20p or donating it to local good causes.

Gemma Lacey, Southern Co-op’s director for sustainability and communications, said: “All of these programmes involve a different method of improving food sustainability. By combining them together and making sure they are right for each store, we hope we can prevent food from going off to be recycled and get more into the hands of customers and good causes.

“It will benefit our customers as snapping up a Magic Bag could help those who are finding budgets tight, as well as dozens of charities who can make use of goods past their best before date - which is a date that relates to quality, not the safety of the product.”

All store waste is currently diverted from landfill and any unsold food sent off for anaerobic digestion, with food broken down to produce biogas and bio-fertiliser.

As part of the Too Good To Go trial, Magic Bags of food will be available to rescue for just a third of the cost at £3.29 - with an original value of £10 or more.

Originally trialled at 12 stores since 31 January and a further 26 from 19 April, so far more than 7,000 Magic Bags have been saved by customers.

Southern Co-op_Food Waste bin

Simon Eastwood, Southern Co-op’s chief operating officer for Retail, said: “The initiatives relating to best before dates will be rolled out over the summer and will see every store either donating food and drink to local good causes or having products reduced to 20p.

“As we are mainly convenience stores, it hasn’t been beneficial for charities to collect food from our stores in the past as the amount and type of food at the end of the day is often unreliable. On some days it could be a few bread products but on other days it could be a range of fruit, veg or pasta.

“However, thanks to our partner Neighbourly, charities and local community groups can now find out what products our stores can donate before they leave their base, which makes a big difference and will help to make it a success.”

At the end of each day, the store notifies a local connected good cause through Neighbourly about which food and drink items are available to collect. If the charity is unable to pick up, then it is offered to a second linked local cause.

This has already been tested at 27 stores in Bristol and Bournemouth since 21 March and a total of four tonnes of food has already been donated. This is the equivalent of £17,000 worth of food and 9,000 meals that are going to individuals in need.

Recipient of the scheme, The Matthew Tree Project in Bristol, said: “We give the produce out to our clients in our food deliveries. This contributes towards the balanced range of foods which we deliver to our clients, enabling struggling and hungry families and individuals in Bristol to eat.”

Southern Co-op is currently working towards ambitious science-based targets to cut direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the business by 2030, supported by a climate action pathway of planned activity and an initial investment of £5.8m.

Hear more from Lacey on the group’s Food Waste initiatives here