Ethical Dilemmas From The Reduced Aisle

reduced sticker

This is going to be quite a short post based upon my thoughts when I recently visited my local Tesco store. I was doing my shopping as usual but when I came to the reduced section on one aisle the staff were just putting some marked down items on the shelves and it dawned on me that this represented both the worst of supermarket wastage and a possible option to be green. In my post on being a waste conscious shopper, I actually encourage the buying of reduced items but now I’m not 100% sure.

You see you have a bit of a tricky decision to make as to whether to purchase any of the reduced food; on the one hand you are doing your bit to reduce waste by putting one or more of these items in your basket but on the other hand you are facilitating poor stock control which may lead to continued waste in the future.

There are a couple of different points to think about here which may or may not help you make a decision.

Animal Welfare

I try to only eat meat that has come from animals who enjoy the highest welfare standards so the RSPCA Freedom Food mark as a minimum and free range wherever possible. The issue with food from the marked down aisle is that you rarely find these higher welfare standards. So, do you load up your trolley with marked down meat from animals that haven’t had a particularly enjoyable life or do you allow it to go to landfill in which case the animal died for nothing?


I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine that when a supermarket bins food, they do so in it’s packaging regardless of whether that packaging can be recycled. So, by buying up reduced items, you not only prevent the food itself from going to landfill, you can also then recycle the packaging yourself to prevent that ending up in the tip too.

Stock Signals

Many supermarkets use electronic stock systems that automatically order replacements for items that have been purchased and reduce order numbers for lines that have not sold and have been wasted. The question is, by buying goods that have been reduced in price, are you sending signals to the supermarket that those items are in demand?

Can your buying of marked down food actually encourage the over ordering and overproduction of that line? If you were to buy that cheap ready meal because you wanted to prevent waste, might you actually be contributing to further waste in the future as supermarkets get the wrong message about what is selling and what isn’t?

My Gut Feelings

As I have already said, I cannot say for sure whether buying reduced price food is beneficial to the environment or not. In my gut I suspect it probably is and my reasons are as follows – supermarkets are never going to have a perfect stock refilling system because it is impossible to predict with any accuracy what the public are going to buy, so some wastage is inevitable.

At the same time, try to ensure that when you do buy marked down food that you actually use it – there is no difference in you binning the food to a supermarket doing it. Freeze items where possible or think up meals before you put things in your basket – if you can’t think of a use, don’t buy it.

Also, I am going to continue to steer clear of lower welfare meat even if it does mean it goes to waste. I would prefer to pay the extra for free range and show my support for this method of raising animals because at the end of the day, if I were to buy marked down meat instead of free range, fewer free range animals would be raised.

Governments Taking Action

On the 14th March 2012, a food waste bill was introduced in the House of Commons calling for supermarkets to donate food that it is no longer possible to sell to charities including those who tackle homelessness and those who help families living in food poverty. Hopefully this bill will help tackle the obscene amount of edible food that gets dumped each and every year not only here but across Europe where 50% gets binned.

What do you think? Is it right to try and prevent food waste even at the expense of animal welfare and does buying marked down food send mixed messages to an electronic stock control system? I’d love to hear from someone who has experience in a supermarket at the stock ordering level.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

12 Responses to “Ethical Dilemmas From The Reduced Aisle”

  1. Gino
    July 4, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    As someone who works in retail, most companies have a system that can differentiate between stock sold at full price and those at a reduced price and therefore future orders of replenishment stock can be reviewed accordingly. It can be difficult to predict what might sell and what might not from one week to the next. Something as simple as the weather can greatly determine what consumers purchase, but the order for stock would have been made weeks or months in advance. Therefore it is inevitable that, with food with a sell by date, there will be reduced stock in supermarkets all the time. I say take advantage of these bargains while they are there as they may not be there again, and it is sometimes an opportunity to try something new that you haven’t tried before and you don’t have to worry too much about the cost if you find out you don’t like it :-)

    • Steve
      July 6, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      Thanks for giving your retail expertise in this matter Gino, it’s interesting to hear how stock systems work and I did not know that they order weeks in advance – no wonder they can’t get it right ever time!

  2. Pami
    July 6, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    It’s always going to be a question of swings and roundabouts isn’t it? I don’t know the answer, but if I can buy reduced food items when I need them then I will. Personally I’m a no fish no meat vegetarian and my family don’t eat much meat anyway but whatever meat I buy can always be divided up & frozen for future use.

  3. Pami
    July 6, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Just found this after I posted. Agree with everything.
    BTW not only are male chicks ground up alive but male calves meet a horrendous death days after birth.
    The human race stinks in respect of animal welfare.

    • Steve
      July 6, 2012 at 12:49 PM

      Yeah there was a programme on Channel 4 not too long ago where Jimmy Doherty tried to get Tesco to sell British Rosé Veal which addresses the problem of male calves being shot the day they are born – not sure where they are with this yet.

      That’s a pretty horrific end for those male chicks – I have just looked up what they do here in the UK and it is legal to use such grinders but apparently not very common – most are gassed which is at least painless but I don’t see why they can’t be raised for meat – apparently they do not grow as fast as the chicken breeds raised for meat so it would make chicken more expensive overall.

  4. Deborah Hezlewood
    July 9, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    Great article but surely this is always going to be a dilemma, a supermarket can’t possible stock the exact amount they are going to sell. Therefore they would be losing out on profits if they understock and possible customers will shop elsewhere if they can’t purchase the required item. And, of course, there is always a matter of overstocking.

    I am sure that when they have these items in their ‘reduced’ section, they keep track on items which have been over-stocked and amend their orders accordingly.

    I tend to find that a lot of the items on the reduced shelf are damaged, slightly crushed boxes, dented cans, split boxes etc, hence not necessarily an over-stock item.

    • Steve
      July 9, 2012 at 2:20 PM

      Thanks for your thoughts Deborah, you make a really good point about many of the items being damaged or dented rather than overstocks and as you said, it’s almost unavoidable to achieve perfect stock control. I stick by the case on animal welfare but the more I hear others’ views, the more it makes sense that buying from the reduced aisle is not a bad choice at all.

  5. MrJackson
    August 4, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Interesting article. Unfortunately supermarkets cannot control what people buy and don’t buy.
    Pressures are placed on managers – if there is empty shelf space in there shops they get marked down by mystery shoppers and risk losing there jobs.

    Variations on weekly shopping, trends in seasonal produce and circumstances can affect peoples target markets. I regularly buy food which is reduced mainly because of the price difference. I have seen first hand the wastages that some of these retail outlets make and although I feel that minimizing wastage from a customer point of view is beneficial to the environment. I think that laws could be made more flexible with regards to food hygene standards so that these foods can at least be given to local homeless shelters or other parts of society that doesn’t quite care that a slice of ham is 30mins past it’s sell by date.

  6. Steve
    February 20, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I agree – it would be rather dumb to re-stock an item that was remaindered. So I wouldn’t worry about that point.

    I wouldn’t buy anything from the reduced Aisle I wouldn’t buy or have bought anyway. You need to watch you don’t over buy from that aisle. I like it best when you can buy from the reduced aisle and put something back from your basket!

  7. Brian Wernham
    April 22, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    You are wrong. Tesco does not send waste to landfill:

    Why assume that supermarkets are anti-green?


    • April 22, 2013 at 7:54 PM

      Brian, Tesco themselves say in the link from that Tweet that they are the only supermarket not to send any waste to landfill so if we are to believe them, food is going to waste and I am NOT wrong.

      Tesco also say that where things cannot be recycled they go to producing energy – do you really think that recyclable sandwich packets are removed from the food and recycled? No, I doubt this very much as it would cost them money and the same goes for plastic I’d suspect – it ends up being burnt which is nowhere near as green as it being recycled.

      I’m not saying supermarkets are not trying really hard to be green, I’m merely saying that buying up the reduced items can prevent some waster either entering landfill or being burnt.

      Supermarkets could do more to reduce food waste in the home if they thought more carefully about which perishables they put on offer because this surely is part of the problem identified in my post about 50% of edible food gets dumped. They could also do more with their suppliers because while Tesco claim they do not send waste to landfill, their policies may be forcing food producers to do exactly that.

      Thanks for your comment, even if I think you could have worded it better.


  8. Vivienne Downes
    May 12, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    I regularly check for reduced items but look at it this way … if I can save money on some items of food that means I can afford the organic, free range, ethical, etc. options for other food which I would prefer but struggle to pay for on a tight budget. I reuse or recycle all packaging. Freeze bulk buys of food such as bread that saves shopping trips & petrol. Its a complex dilemma but I’m sure that every little thing we are doing is a step in the right direction. Just wish more people would wake up & see it the same way !

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