Food from supermarkets fresher than onlineWhich? found online best-before dates earlier

22 November 2007

 

A shopping basket of goods

Online grocery shopping might save you from traipsing around a busy supermarket, but you may have to eat your food sooner than if you shop in the store, Which? can reveal.

Our investigation into the main supermarkets found that foodstuffs bought in stores have, on average, a longer shelf life than those bought online.

The findings confirm concerns highlighted by Which? in March 2007 that foods bought online can be less fresh.

That report found that around only four in ten Asda and Sainsbury’s shoppers believed use-by dates on groceries from their most recent online shop were as good as those they would have selected in a store.

Six in ten Waitrose Deliver and Ocado customers felt the same.

Weekly shop

To test this, we visited Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose stores and bought ten items you might shop for on a weekly basis, choosing the freshest, non-organic produce.

We also booked online deliveries of the same items from the same supermarkets and from Ocado – which delivers Waitrose items – to arrive on the same day as our shop visits.

Our snapshot research in October found that, on average, the store’s best-before dates are more than a day later than those for the same products bought online. This included plums, carrots, potatoes and salad. In addition, one loaf had a sell-by date eight days later than the same bread bought through the store’s online service.

But despite these differences, no supermarket chain performed worse than any other overall.

Shelf life

The findings will be no surprise for reader Subi Shah from London, who contacted us expressing concern about her website shopping experiences.

Subi said: ‘I’ve had problems with Tesco.com. I’ve sent things back because they’ve been on the edge of their shelf life and, on occasion, I’ve had to use items by the next day.

‘When I last shopped there I received a loaf of bread and a 2.5kg bag of potatoes that I had to use by the next day, while the other items also had a short shelf life.’

Store policies

We asked the stores how they pick products for their online customers.

Tesco told us it uses personal shoppers to pick the freshest produce from stores and customers can request minimum best-buy dates.

Sainsbury’s also uses store pickers and said it was committed to providing the freshest produce.

Waitrose said that its shoppers pick orders during opening hours, so goods are the same as those that customers can choose in store. Ocado works from a warehouse, which, it says, allows it to deliver the freshest products and remove anything with a date deemed to be too short for customers. Asda did not respond in time.