The campaign against waste: Asda's packaging cover-up

Turnips in a tub, wrapped in plastic: even the staff thought it unnecessary. Ian Herbert investigates Asda's motives

A A A

There's something faintly environmental about the Asda superstore at Pudsey in West Yorkshire. Maybe it's the dashing green fleeces the staff wear; or perhaps the store's vast glass atrium, which looks big enough to turn the entire chain carbon-neutral if someone was minded to slap on a few solar panels.

But the unexpected air of sustainability does not stretch to the fruit and veg. Apples, mushrooms, broccoli and spinach all sit on plastic trays, tightly wrapped in plastic, and so too do the "British baby turnips"- delicately nurtured only to be encased, eight at a time, in a tub.

"Why all this packaging?" I ask Sue, who is arranging the veg. "There seems too much."

"You're right, she replies," with the confidence of one who would not have to explain. That is down to Carol, the counter manager. "I think it's partly to do with the transportation," she says. "You'll probably need to ask Asda House, one of the company's two HQ buildings, which is in the centre of Leeds. "But the turnips are British. And what about these baby parsnips?" I counter, flourishing the additional evidence.

Already people are starting to stare and Carol seems to be concluding these questions are for somebody else. Except, the floor manager is on holiday and the produce manager in a meeting. Or was it the other way around? "So I'll talk to the store manager then. Point me to his office."

But miraculously, a walkie-talkie call later, Danny, the floor manager, looms into view, with a few explanations about packaging. "There is too much of it," he admits. "But there are reasons. We sell the turnips on offer [two packs for £2] and to do that we have to pack them up. We had people only around last week to examine whether enough items are going into plastic tubs like this. That's company strategy, though. We don't have the control here."

There's a higher power here though: the GSM, to those in the know, or the general store manager (Steve Beaumont) to the rest. "We just don't make the packaging strategies here. That's down to Asda House," he insists.

So to Asda House it must be - once I, the turnips and packaging are through the checkout. "Lot of packaging isn't there?" I observe, hoping to gain the support of Rita on the checkout. "Yes. They'd be better sold separately wouldn't they?" she replies obligingly, with a deftly delivered "make sure you recycle that packaging" as I sweep out.

Ground preparations are clearly required for Asda House, and who better to consult than Greenpeace, which managed to get Asda to stop stocking several endangered fish species last year after climbing the building. "Use the revolving door," offers the activist who led that protest.

So, no abseiling ropes or crampons for me - and yet there is still success at the reception desk. "Packaging? I heard something about that on the radio this morning," says the receptionist. "Take a place in the coffee area and I'll call customer services."

If Julian, the customer service manager, has been taught that the customer is always right then he passes the test comfortably with the baby turnips. "Absolutely right. They're awful," he says. "It stops you getting a full look underneath them, doesn't it?" But just when I seem to be winning the Independent campaign single-handedly, there is a catch: he will need to check this out and call or e-mail.

So the journey goes on to the top - or at least to Asda's corporate responsibility manager, Ian Bowles. "Yes, there is too much packaging," he says. "Have you looked at the spinach? It's awful." And what about the incarceration of my innocent turnips? Well, it enables the supermarket to give them a sell-by date, he explains.

Asda is tackling this issue with plans to offer "dirty produce"- which means vegetables not scrubbed of their soil. Single portion sizes are also to be reduced to limit waste, and there are to be more recycling bins installed in stores, so customers can dump their packaging in stores.

But converting all customers may be a long project, it seems. "My wife buys our packaged, pre-prepared mashed potato," Mr Bowles admits. "People just want to walk into the store, buy their meal and leave."

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
The Prostate Cancer Foundation is returning all donations made by Redditors 'in honour' of Jennifer Lawrence and her naked photos
news

Website users raised funds after Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak

News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

The Tardis-style house measures in at just 83 inches wide

News
advertising
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Renewables Consultant

£28000 - £34000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Renewable...

Energy Procurement Consultant

£26000 - £34000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Pr...

Swimming Teacher/Coach

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Teachers needed in Debenham

Competitive & Flexible: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educatio...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York