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Factors that Impacts Personal Consumption and Food Waste

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Table of contents

  1. Factors influencing consumption and wastage
  2. Socio-demographic factors
    Individual behaviours, perceptions and expectations towards foods
    Customers lack of awareness, knowledge and skills

This essay presents the result of literature review, interviews and questionnaires with the purpose of highlighting the factors that contribute to food waste in Brookes University and campuses. Results show that consumer’s motivation to avoid food waste, their management skills of food provisioning and food handling have an extensive influence on their food waste behaviour. We identify actions that have been made by the sustainability team in terms of reducing the wastage and highlight a set of recommendations that can be undertaken.

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Food waste normally occurs downstream the supply chain, more specific at the retail and consumption stages. Consumers are the main contributors towards food waste as they have the highest level of environmental and economic negative impact. The value –added lost is greater due to the loss of natural resources, biodiversity, labour and energy and the opportunity cost of not feeding other people whom might be living in hunger. One study shows that 35% of food waste is attributed to consumers. To effectively reduce food waste we have to understand more the consumer and their behaviour by gaining knowledge about them. The main factors to impact behaviour of consumers are social-demographic factors, lifestyle and market segmentation as well as food choice, financial attributes, planning routines and food surplus.

Factors influencing consumption and wastage

WRAP states that food waste is not a conscious decision. There is a gap between the action causing the waste and the consequence of it. While food consumption is characterised by a complexity of habits and rituals the food waste is invisible as it’s not planned or needed, or there are not any rituals that require a certain amount of food to be wasted. It is impacted less by social norms.

Gathering almost 300 factors that can influence food waste, the EU project Fusions concluded that there were three general consumer-related factors:

  • Social factors, such as household type, family stage and related lifestyles
  • Individual behaviours, perceptions and expectations towards foods
  • Customers’ lack of awareness, knowledge and skills.

Socio-demographic factors

Perhaps the highest direct connection to socio-demographics belongs to the household structure, in terms of age and number of household members. These are, for example, post-war upbringing of the older generation or greater food skills of older households, household size influences the need of different food package sizes, higher food safety concerns in households with children, time available for food preparation, lower degree of planning and higher spontaneity and convenience orientation in younger or single households, etc.

Individual behaviours, perceptions and expectations towards foods

To begin with, a crucial factor is the degree to which consumers have the motivation to avoid food waste. While a part of food waste actions might be taken in order to save money, there is a whole range of actions that are rather due to ethical reasons such as equality, values or religious beliefs or environmental concerns. These motives are echoed in the consumers’ varied beliefs about the issue and strength of attitudes towards food waste avoidance. These personal attitudes crucially influence the intention to recycle food waste. A number of studies have been conducted and there is highlighted that a door-to-door information campaign can lead to an increase correct separation of food waste. Installing bins in household and subsequently sharing photos of waste in social networks can raise awareness and self-reflection but can also bring feelings of guilt that can result in changing attitudes.

Retailers can have an influence in food waste. Food companies that promote marketing and sales strategies have direct and significant negative effect on the consumer behaviour, pushing them to develop actions of excessive purchase. The way products are being presented in the shops, as well as offers and promotions strongly influence food waste generation. This also makes an initiative/intervention aimed to reduce food wastage be less effective. At the point of purchase, consumers many times use appearance as an indication that allows them to estimate the quality level of a product. As a consequence, they quite rationally choose the more attractive product and they are inclined to offer less money for products that are not as appealing as others.

Food management knowledge and capabilities are essential in a household. Consumer behaviours are directly related to planning and shopping routines, not using a shopping list, lacking overview of stock, lacking knowledge about whether food can be still used. Over preparation, excessive purchase and inappropriate conservation are part of the management issues in households. One way of responding to over preparation is to consume the leftovers that can be beneficial as money are saved and food waste is reduced. Younger generation might find it harder to deal with leftovers than older generation, as older people are more experienced and skilled to use the leftovers or incorporate them in a new dish.

Customers lack of awareness, knowledge and skills

It is necessary to provide information constantly and repeatedly as consumers tend to forget it, also information should be delivered via various sources, as consumer’s trust of sources is different.

A lack of knowledge appears to be one of the drivers in food waste behaviour as the indicators of “use by”, “best before”, “sell by” or “display by” are not fully understood by consumers. Consumers also interpret these dates differently depending on the food category. This can potentially be easy to educate about, along encouraging and teaching consumers how to assess foods by looking, smelling and tasting. Another action very useful is having food “skills” in terms of assessing, managing and planning food purchasing as well as handling. It requires creating awareness of the overall issue, as well raising individual’s awareness of the fact that it happens in one’s own household and not at other people’s households only.

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Summing up, we can identify several factors that can influence food waste. They connected with social sphere, individual perception and lack of customers knowlenge. Knowing these reasons, we can begin work on correcting this problem.

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