Why Asda was right to reinstate food bank collections

Its £3.50 ‘wonky veg’ box was a small victory in the ongoing war on waste – so what on earth was Asda thinking when it removed food bank collections from its stores?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste programme last year brought into focus the huge food waste taking place across the country, with supermarkets AND consumers to blame.

In the MSE Forum, our War on Waste discussion, which began before the programme started and was hugely popular throughout the show, showed the strength of MoneySavingExpert users’ opinions on the issue. (Hugh also kindly took time to answer some of our site users’ questions in an MSE War on Waste guest comment.)

Many were as distressed as I was to see a family who had farmed parsnips for generations put out of business because its veg were deemed too small, too large or too wonky – and a mountain of parsnips which had to be wastefully ploughed back into the field as a result.

‘Wonky veg’

Fast forward a few months and Asda responded to the challenge of food waste when it announced on 4 February it would be trialling a £3.50 ‘wonky veg’ box in 128 stores (albeit with just 20 boxes in each store).

But was it really enough – and if the veg box was too big, would it really help stop food waste and save people money?

Our very own MSE Jordon dug into this (sorry, not sorry for the pun) in his How loose fruit and veg can save you a packet… literally blog.

He found that while the box is great for emphasising to consumers that veg is veg, wonky or not, we can save even more money, reduce food waste AND as a useful by-product cut down on plastic use by carefully checking we’re not paying extra just for packaging.

I don’t know about you, but I feel if we care about our environment enough to not waste wonky veg, we should also care about it enough not to contribute to the world’s growing plastic problem. You just need to look at the images of animals that’ve died having swallowed plastic bags, or the expanding plastic islands in our oceans, to see how awful it is. I feel if we all say no to plastic packaging it will send a powerful message to supermarkets.

Food bank furore

Then last week, it was reported by The Guardian that Asda had removed food-bank donation boxes from inside its stores. Not only that, the paper suggested it had been done quietly, with little or no communication with the food banks affected. So I began to investigate.

As a journalist, I’d have expected to see something in the Asda website press centre, but I found nothing – plenty of good wonky veg PR, but no mention of food bank collections.

So while the wonky veg initiative had given the impression Asda might be trying to help reduce food waste, was that really the case? Was the supermarket giving with one hand yet taking away with the other? Was the wonky veg box trial some kind of PR stunt to create good buzz while food bank boxes were quietly removed?

Asda responds

I contacted Asda for a comment last Thursday, asking it to justify its decision to remove food bank boxes, and why it had not publicised it. Early Friday morning its press office came back – with good news.

A spokesperson said: "As a retailer who is committed to supporting our local communities we never intended to stop food banks or similar local charities collecting in our stores.

"We made some changes to our community programme around unmanned collections in the belief that this would benefit the many local good causes who collect in our stores.

"On this occasion our customers and colleagues have told us they understand our intentions, but prefer us to continue to give charities more options to maximise donations. We are therefore reinstating unmanned collection points."

That’s a great win for food banks and people on low incomes who they support, and for the war on waste – even if it took Asda a while to come to the right decision. Hooray!