The Great Balancing Act: Consumers battle to reduce food waste

September 17, 2015
4 minutes read

The issue of food waste is increasingly in the spotlight, with events hosted up and down the country highlighting the consequences of food waste and working to educate consumers on how to reduce the amount of food they throw away.

Indeed, food losses and waste occurs at every step of the supply chain, during production, harvest, and storage. However, consumers actually create the largest volume of food waste both in and out of the home.

A fresh approach to extending shelf life

Consumers are focusing more on what goes into their food. In the US, concern about the ingredients contained in food and drink products is strongest amongst younger generations. For example, according to Mintel’s Free-from Food Trends US 2015 report, 60% of Millennials worry quite a bit about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy. Artificial ingredients are also a major concern among UK consumers. Mintel’s Consumer Attitudes toward Sugar and Sweeteners UK 2015 report reveals over half of adults worry about additives and colouring in food and non-alcoholic drinks.

In response to these attitudes, ‘no additives or preservative’ claims continue to be the top claim used on food and drink launches globally.

Manufacturers are in a challenging position as they need to balance consumer demand for more natural, additive and preservative-free products, while considering the implications of reducing the use of additives and preservatives, which can expedite spoilage rates.

Consumers: Part of the food waste solution

As a growing amount of food meant for human consumption is lost or wasted at some point along the supply chain, food waste is becoming a bigger issue. Production losses and inefficiencies mean huge quantities of food produced never even reach the end consumer. Food waste in the global  market, at the retail level, and by consumers in and outside of the home is also a huge contributor.

Ambitious food waste reduction targets have been set out by regional and national bodies, however reversing the amount of food wasted in the EU will require considerable work to change consumer behaviour, starting with consumers’ grocery shopping habits. Mintel research shows that across European countries the numbers of consumer who avoid special offers on food to avoid throwing items away is relatively low, with only 15% of German consumers, 16% of French and Italian, 17% of Spanish and 23% of Polish consumers doing so.

So how can manufacturers get the balance right?

Aside from consumer-lead initiatives, new and creative approaches are being developed and implemented by processors and manufacturers to help reduce food waste. These range from the repurposing of foods near or slightly past their expiration dates and turning them into healthy affordable meals; to creating functional health ingredients from by-products of processing typically discarded, such as the coffee berry, and the creation of ‘smart labelling’ to provide more accurate use-by dates to avoid unnecessary food waste.

A recent business created by students from Lund University in Sweden, presented at the Thought for FoodChallenge in Lisbon, Portugal, has come up with a way to deal with perishable fruit and vegetables that have almost past their best. The business called Fopo (freeze dried food powder) uses ‘expired’ fruit and vegetables and pulverises them into powders that have a new shelf life of up to two years. The powder contains between 30 to 80% of the nutritional value of the original fruit and vegetables, however its integrity is said to be preserved over the two year shelf life. The powders taste very similar to the original product, and can be used by consumers as a sprinkle in smoothies, on breakfast cereals or in baking, or by the food and drink industry looking for fruit or vegetable ingredients.

One hurdle for the powders could be convincing consumers to eat almost rotten produce. However as ‘superfood’ powders become more mainstream they are increasingly seen as a convenient way to add a dense dose of nutrition. While the back story and link to reducing food waste fits in with consumers’ desire to connect with brands doing the right thing. Consumers often voice green or ethical sentiments, they are often too cash-strapped or time-poor to turn belief into action, and instead look to manufacturers, retailers and brands to do the good work for them.

Laura Jones is Mintel’s Global Food Science Analyst. Prior to this, Laura worked in the refrigeration and cooking division of a New Product Development Team for an appliance company in New Zealand. The focus of this role was to develop, design and test refrigeration and cooking products from a food safety and food care point of view, using a variety of scientific tests, including microbiological, chemical and nutritional, and sensory testing. Laura also worked as part of the food blog team, developing recipes and providing nutritional advice.

Laura Daisy-Jones
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