An open letter to the Co-op

Dear management of Co-op Food,

A quick question: If you owned something you wanted to get rid of and I offered you money for the item, what would you do?

A) Sell me the item

B) Give it to me for free (The sun’s out, you’re feeling generous)

C) Throw the item in the bin

It’s hard to imagine C being most people’s first choice but this is exactly what your Co-op stores do every single day with food.

A case in point: I was in your Greenwich store last week and the pineapple I brought up to the till wouldn’t scan. It was out of date and as soon as this happens the scanners on your tills fail to recognise the barcode. Fair enough.

So can I have it for free then?

The cashier laughed and said she couldn’t do this.

Because you have to throw it away?

This, as you have probably guessed, isn’t the first time this has happened. The cashier laughed again and nodded, somewhat embarrassed.

You see how ridiculous this situation is?

Here is an item that only a few minutes earlier I was willing to pay full price for – the pineapple was to my mind absolutely fine and worth the money. Not only would your store not accept my money, you wouldn’t even give the pineapple away for free. Your website proudly lists your approach to ‘ethical food’. Please explain to me how flying food across the world (Costa Rica, in this instance, I believe) only to throw it in a bin can be called ethical?

I’m sure you will tell me this is out of your hands. That the law dictates any food past its sell-by date must be disposed of in such a way. If so, surely it should be the Co-ops responsibility, as an advocate of ‘ethical food’, to lead lobbying campaigns against such absurd and disgusting waste.

I have paid money for pineapples from fruit and veg markets in a far ‘riper’ state than the one Co-op insisted on throwing in the bin. So if there is a law it is not being practised by all food retailers.

If lobbying for change on this issue is not something you want to pursue, why not give the food away to food banks? Or set up a stall outside your shops and give the food away to passers-by (at their own risk)? Or cook some meals up for those in need?

Given that food prices are rising, people’s standard of living a dropping fast and there is an environmental crisis on the horizon, it beggars belief – yes, I am using the standard ‘Daily Mail Reader’ complaint letter template – that you throw your food away.

I suspect this email will be received and responded to by a complaint handling team in some way integrated with the Co-ops PR activities. Either of the above ideas would not cost the Co-op a bean (although it might put a few to more productive use) but would earn you some good PR. Why not get Holler, or one of the other agencies you contract, to generate a bit of social media interest around the issue.

The Co-op’s finances are in a sorry state at the moment. The one thing it still has is its brand. If you don’t start behaving in an ethical way soon, your brand will be destined for the same place as your out of date food: the bin.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Hugh

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