The Co-op is to end “last-minute” sales of fresh produce to reduce the volume of edible food going to waste in its stores every day.

Two hours before closing time, the national supermarket chain will remove items with a use by or best before date for that day, so they can be donated to thousands of charities and small community groups in time for them to be frozen or turned into meals.

After a successful trial at 50 branches, the scheme will be rolled out across the Co-op’s 2,500 outlets, potentially creating almost 8m meals every year.

Though food redistribution charities routinely receive large quantities of bread and other baked goods, the Co-op’s scheme aims to guarantee donations of fresh food including meat, salads, fruit and vegetables, as well as ready meals and pizza.

The Co-op Food Share aims to let groups make use of as much food as possible and allows them to collect from multiple stores regularly at flexible times in the 1,500 towns, villages and cities where the retailer has outlets. Beneficiaries could include homeless shelters, breakfast clubs for children and lunch clubs for the elderly.

The initiative will be launched by the Co-op’s chief executive, Steve Murrells, at the member-owned business’ annual general meeting on Saturday. “It’s unbelievable that over a third of the food produced around the world goes to waste,” said Murrells. “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.”

Laura Winningham, the chief executive of the hunger relief charity City Harvest, said: “We’ve helped trial the scheme and we are 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.”

The Co-op works with FareShare, a charity working to end hunger, to redistribute food from its depots. Since 2013 the retailer has provided enough food for more than 3m meals.

It is a signatory of the Courtauld Commitment 2025, which brings together leading organisations working towards the UN’s goal of halving food waste by 2030.





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