For people who care about their food

Waitrose’s labelling lapses

A bag of pak choi from Waitrose, with yellowing leaves

If you bought something from a well-known British supermarket and it said on the front of the pack, “Display until [date]”, would you expect that it would be fine to eat on the day after the “display until” date? I would. And had every expectation of doing so.

Unfortunately the contents of the pack were already well past their best the day after the “display until” date. We had kept the bag refrigerated from about an hour after purchase until the time we went to use it, just hours after their “display until” date had passed.

Mr Not Delia took this rotten veg back to the branch of Waitrose and expressed our dissatisfaction that it had deteriorated so badly by the day after the “display until” date. Surely the fact that it was a “display until” date and not a “use by” date implied that there would be a certain amount of leeway before the food went rotten? The woman on Customer Services said that she could not refund or replace the item because he had bought it within the display date and fruit and vegetables became our responsibility after purchase.

Compare and contrast with some other supermarkets who, if you return goods which are unfit for the purpose, refund or replace them pretty much without question. We’re long-term regular shoppers with Waitrose. They know our shopping patterns and what we buy every week. Yet they’ll risk losing our loyalty over a pack of pak choi?

I’ve never heard of a respected supermarket being so stingy over a packet of veg that costs £1.49. Especially since their packet proudly proclaims that they’ll replace the item and refund you if you’re not happy.

Waitrose's no-quibble refund policy

Clearly something has gone wrong here, and it would be easy just to put it down to bad service on the part of an inexperienced staff member. But there’s more to it than that.

The government are urging the industry to reduce the visibility of stock control markings like “Display until…” or “Sell by…”, as there’s plenty of evidence to show that consumers confuse them with the “Use by…” markings that are required on certain perishable foodstuffs, and throw away perfectly good food – or, like us, expect that the food will keep at least until the date shown and then end up having to throw it away when it fails to meet expectations.

Waitrose, it seems, have chosen to flout the government’s guidance. Not only is the “Display until” date prominent on the front of the packaging…

"Display until" date on the front of Waitrose pak choi

…but they actively draw the consumer’s attention to it as a “Use by” date, thus achieving exactly the dilution of the key messages of the legally required marking that the government’s trying to prevent.

Waitrose's storage advice - based on a stock control date

If we’d bought the pak choi loose, there wouldn’t have been any date on it. We’d have made no assumptions about how long it would keep for, and we’d have kept an eye on it to make sure we ate it before it spoilt. As it is, we’ve been left with a bag of yellowing leaves, and an unpleasant customer service experience.

Pretty poor, Waitrose.

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