Unsold supermarket food finding its way to charity, staff... and the bin

Ever wondered what happens to in-store food products that aren’t sold? David Hudson spoke to supermarkets, distributors and all the parties involved to see how many products actually go to waste

All major supermarkets agree that when food items are close to expiration date, prices are discounted and items are included in special offers
All major supermarkets agree that when food items are close to expiration date, prices are discounted and items are included in special offers

Forget about the 22% of food that is bought but ends up in the bin according to a recent National Statistics Office study.

What about the food that isn’t bought, the comestibles that stay on the shelves of supermarkets? What happens when they are close to expiration date?

Answers vary. However, all major supermarkets agree that when food items are close to expiration date, prices are discounted and items are included in special offers.

Still, this does not guarantee sales. When food items remain on the shelves despite all efforts, different supermarkets resort to different solutions.

“We remove our food items from our store before these expire,” a Pavi spokesperson told MaltaToday. “We’ve already started pulling off the shelves the items that expire in January and February.”

Pavi said that these items are packed for collection. “These we give to convents. Once a week, on a Saturday, vans from several nunneries pick up the damaged goods and the goods we were unable to sell.”

On the other hand, a best-before date suggests that these can still be consumed after the date stamped on the items. Most people, however, still refuse to buy these products. These go to the convents as well. “It’s very rare that we have no choice but to throw away products,” the Pavi representative said.

On an even brighter side, Smart supermarket said that it did not dispose of any food products. Why? Because the products that aren’t sold are collected by the agents that distributed them in the first place. “We do have products that we import, the Tesco food items, but very little remains of these on the shelves,” Smart said.

“What little remains we give away to [social work charity] Caritas and to parish priests of the surrounding localities – Balzan, Birkirkara, Iklin – who distribute them to less fortunate families,” a representative said.

Other supermarkets adopt a different strategy. One particular major food store said that it halves the price of products that are nearing their best-before date and when this still doesn’t help selling them, the products are distributed equally amongst the staff members. Items that are beyond their expiration date are thrown away.

The supermarket in question claimed that this was not a substantial amount, especially because the items that aren’t imported are collected by the agents if not sold.

But what do the distributors and agents do with these unsold products?

They throw them away. MaltaToday spoke to major distributors across Malta and were told that they have no choice but to dispose of the products.

“All waste is separated. We register the amount of products that are damaged or past their expiry date with a waste management service. In our case, it’s Green Skip Services Ltd,” one distributor said.

It is a kind of membership that every sales distributor has with a waste management service. “We pay them a fee and they dispose of the products for us or provide us with skips for us to do so ourselves. Most of the time, they are present when we dispose of the products.”

A distributor explained that sometimes there is an agreement in place with supermarkets.

“Stores usually take a 25% commission from the food products we deliver since they’re selling them for us. When it comes to most seasonal items, such as panettones and other Christmas cakes, we increase that commission so that we won’t have to collect the products if they’re not sold.”

In this case, it is up to the supermarkets to dispose of the items. They would have to pay the fee themselves to waste management services to dispose of their unsold panettones.

Or, in most cases, they hand out the leftovers to charities.

And, in rare cases, they distribute the unsold panettones among the staff members of the supermarket.