The Expiration Debate

Articles
March 18, 2010

The Expiration Debate

The Expiration Debate

Expiration dates are somewhat of an enigma; a riddle that faces every shopper and virtually every eater on a daily basis. The various terms used tend to confuse shoppers, and due to the variety of different processing methods some foods last a few days and others claim to be shelf stable and forgo the expiration labeling all together. Consumers seem to be polarized on this issue. Some disregard the expiration date completely and judge by smell, taste and color, and then there are those who toss the food on midnight of the stamped date.  

Supermarketguru.com conducted a consumer quick poll to uncover what shoppers really think and how much they understand about expiration date labeling. 
 
A sweeping majority, 77 percent of shoppers, ‘always’ notice a food or beverage’s expiration date, and about a quarter (23 percent) of those polled ‘sometimes’ notice the date. This is great news that the majority always notice expiration dates; this indicates that shoppers are taking time to read labels (and hopefully noticing nutrition information and ingredients as well…), but are their purchasing behaviors affected by the stamped date? Yes, you bet they are! A whopping 91 percent reported that they did not purchase a product because of the marked date.
 
Consumers seem to be pretty well informed when it comes to expiration dates, or so it seems, based on their shopping behavior. However, when asked if they were confused by the different nomenclature used to represent expiration, 47 percent answered ‘yes.’  Clearly something needs to be done if 91 percent of shoppers, who notice the labels, change their behavior based on the expiration date… but half report that the labels confuse them. Stores are missing out on sales, and misinformed shoppers may very well be tossing perfectly good food.
 
Of the various expiration nomenclature, 90 percent of shoppers prefer ‘use by’ or ‘best if used by.’ ‘Sell by’ and ‘best by’ add to shopper’s confusion. Supermarketguru.com also asked shoppers what comes to mind when they think expiration date. Thirty-one percent think ‘harmful to health,’ 23 percent think ‘quality’ and 19 percent think ‘bad taste/smell.’ Streamlined nomenclature would help shoppers make more well-informed decisions. 
 
Shoppers are also confused about whether or not the government regulates expiration labeling. Only infant formulas and some baby foods are required by law to print expiration dates, all other foods expiration labeling is based on a voluntary system. SG.com is not advocating the government to step in, but believes that a consensus within the food industry would cut consumer confusion.