Little-known Coles policy infuriates shoppers: 'Unable to refund or exchange'

A Coles customer whose online grocery order included a loaf of bread with only two days remaining until it went off has highlighted a growing problem surrounding food expiry dates. As more Aussies turn to online shopping, they're faced with receiving food that is close to or even past its use-by date.

"So apparently Coles policy on bread is if it has 2 days use-by on the tag, they will sell it. It's not fresh daily," a Sydneysider informed members of a popular Facebook group, sharing the supermarket's response to her complaint about the issue, which advised that its "minimum acceptance for all bread products is 2 days".

"Unfortunately, as these products were within our minimum acceptance guidelines we are unable to provide you with a refund or exchange for these items," the Coles response continued.

Coles supermarket worker checking pastry item on shelf
A woman's Facebook post about Coles delivering her bread that was set to go off in two days has prompted other shoppers to chime in with their own complaints about the practice. Source: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Scores of group members related their own experiences regarding online grocery shopping in Australia.

"Bread isn't the only thing they do it with. So many items delivered that were almost out of date and got the same generated response after complaining. It's disgusting,"one woman shared.

"It's the same with their meats too. Got a click and collect from Coles recently and got some meat that only had two days expiry on it. When I questioned the store they said the same thing 'it's within the guidelines'," a second commented.

Widespread problem

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE says this problem is more common than most people think, with 46 per cent of people saying they received an online order with short-dated food products which include milk, meat, fruit and vegetables, and yoghurt.

CHOICE also says that data from its survey showed that 78 per cent of respondents said they would not have selected a particular product if they'd been in the store to pick it themselves, while 38 per cent said the short use-by date meant they had to change their menu to consume the product before the expiry date.

The survey also revealed that some respondents thought short-dating products was a retailer tactic for getting rid of products close to the end of their shelf life.

Supermarkets defend policies

Coles and Woolworths, however, told CHOICE that they do right by their customers.

"We aim to stock only fresh products of the highest quality in all of our fresh food departments. When packing Coles Online orders our team members follow strict guidelines that detail the minimum use-by date acceptance – these differ across our fresh produce categories including dairy, meat, bakery and eggs," a Coles spokesperson said, but added, "We don't currently offer our customers the choice to select specific use-by dates for individual items."

Woolworths also told the advocacy group: "Our dedicated personal shoppers hand-pick fruit and veg for online orders to meet the unique requests of our customers. This can include picking an under-ripe banana for later in the week or ready-to-eat avocado for that night's dinner."

The spokesperson added that customers can let them know about their preference by adding to their notes in their online order. "And our personal shoppers will do their best to meet their needs based on the stock available at the time," the spokesperson said.

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