Across the globe, one third of all food produced for human consumption ends up in the waste bin. Most of this waste gets thrown away by consumers. Marit Luiting-Drijfhout conducted research into our behaviour when buying, consuming and wasting food. Her thesis makes practical recommendations about how to combat food waste. Making realistic decisions in the supermarket, sticking to meal plans and switching to convenience foods would appear to be promising ways of being more responsible about food.
Drijfhout reveals that the period between buying and consuming food has a significant effect on food waste. When buying for longer-term consumption, we tend to choose food that is relatively healthy, but less tasty. But when the time comes to eat it, we are tempted by more enjoyable, less healthy options, and we waste the food that we were planning to eat.
In addition, Luiting-Drijfhout concludes that consumers incline towards impulsive consumption, even if they initially chose relatively healthy food, with relatively few calories. A system in which customers can order food in advance may reduce waste and stimulate healthy food consumption, but only if there is no opportunity to subsequently add extra food to a meal on an impulse.
Convenience food that has been minimally processed can also help to minimize waste, says Drijfhout. Replacing whole vegetables with pre-chopped vegetables, for example, can reduce consumer food waste by as much as 65%. Drijfhout: ‘A possible explanation is that when considering future meals, consumers focus on the desirable features of their home-made meals which are preferably made from scratch, resulting in buying raw, unprocessed ingredients. However, when it is time to make these meals, feasibility aspects become more important, and our busy lifestyles restrain us to put in the energy, time and motivation to use all the purchased raw ingredients. As a result, the whole, raw food soon ends up in the bin. As a solution, convenience products such as these pre-chopped vegetables can provide an easier meal task and support consumers to stick to their healthy meal plans, with the result of preventing waste.
Drijfhout shows that consumers are less likely to buy these convenience foods if there is a long period between purchase and consumption, which is often the case when doing groceries in the supermarket. ‘So it’s important to encourage consumers to think about the feasibility of the meals they are planning while they are still in the supermarket. Do I really have the time, motivation and energy to prepare this meal? By thinking carefully, consumers might be more inclined to buy and use prepared vegetables, for example.’
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