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Importance shoppers give to use by dates ‘varies by age’ – survey

| Research tools

The importance that consumers place on “best before” and “use by” dates varies between age groups and life stages, according to Bridgethorne’s latest Shopper Index.

The research found that there are marked differences in consumers’ approaches to food waste and how they shop for food based on shelf-life dates. The new Bridgethorne Shopper Index found that shoppers claim to regularly refer to use by dates, with 75% looking more than two or three times per week, suggesting that ensuring they have the freshest products in our cupboards is important to them.

The over 55s seem more pragmatic about using food that is past its sell by date, probably using past knowledge and experience to judge if it is okay to eat. Less experienced shoppers, however, are the least confident and rely much more on the advice on pack as to whether it should be used.

96% of retired people, compared with 86% of those at the pre-family life stage, say they understand the difference between best before and use by dates. At home women are likely to check dates more regularly than men – 40% daily, compared with just 29% of men. 53% of those in the pre-family life stage check every day, compared with just 37% of families and only 33% of “empty nesters”.

But when out shopping the difference is event more noticeable. Unsurprisingly it is fresh products that shoppers check most frequently, and for which they are most reliant on dates to help decide whether to use or throw away. Fresh meat and fish is the category where shoppers pay most attention to shelf-life dates, with 66% of respondents saying they check labels every time they plan to buy. The over 55s seem most concerned, with 82% always checking before they buy, compared to just 68% of the 35-54 age group and only 39% of the 18-34 age group.

This is closely followed by chilled dairy products, where 64% of respondents say they always check labelling when shopping, compared with only half who check chilled ready meals every time. Just 16% of respondents say they check shelf-life dates on tinned food and jars when shopping.

Nearly half of respondents (46%) say they think twice about using food beyond its spoilage date (51% among women), while 39% of the over 55s say they ignore the dates and use the food anyway. And more than half of respondents said that they were less likely to buy food if it was close to perishing, rising to 69% in the pre-family life stage.

The data shows that there is a high level of understanding about the difference between the two types of information – best before and use by – though consumers also seem comfortable making judgements on the safety of food themselves.

The index also found that recycling household waste and reducing food waste are issues that take on greater importance to us as we get older and are far more important to women than to men. A majority of consumers think that recycling household waste is important – including 63% of 18–34 year olds and 86% of over 55s.

Although nearly a third of us think that retailers and manufacturers have a role to play, the majority believe we are jointly responsible as individuals for the reduction of food waste. However, the difference in attitudes between age groups was also evident here, with only 68% of 18-34s assuming personal responsibility compared with 91% of 35-54 ad 92% of over 55s.

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