Most shoppers think supermarkets should do more to reduce food waste

Redistribution fund launched to reduce UK food waste
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ wk1003mike

More than nine in 10 shoppers think supermarkets should play a larger role in reducing food waste, according to research commissioned by operational improvement specialists Newton.

The YouGov survey of 4,000 consumers revealed that 92% of respondents felt that supermarkets can do more to combat food waste, with 69% of respondents citing the sale of imperfect fresh produce as the top method of preventing produce from being thrown away.

While many supermarkets have implemented campaigns to this end – with Tesco’s ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range, Lidl’s ‘Too Good to Waste’ vegetable boxes and Asda’s original ‘Wonky Veg’ initiative – it has been claimed that the UK is still wasting 4.5 million tonnes of food that does not meet artificial specifications.

The research also found that consumers wanted greater flexibility when it comes to buying products. More than half of respondents wanted the option of buying loose fruit and vegetables or to buy in smaller portions (45%) – such as half a cucumber,  while nearly a third (30%) wanted food sold in packaging that better prolongs the life of the product or to be offered a delayed BOGOF deal that would enable the shopper to collect the second within a realistic time frame when they have need of it (30%).

Just 3% of respondents said they did not feel the onus is on supermarkets to reduce food waste, while 5% said they didn’t know. The research found that consumers could do more to combat food waste, with 73% admitting they regularly throw food away.

The top misdemeanour was simply forgetting what was in the fridge (23%) with complaints including food overripening too quickly, being encouraged to over-purchase through deals and poor packaging that accelerates food decomposition, all logged by 12-15% of respondents.

Paul Harvey, Partner at Newton, said: “It’s clear that consumers want to see retailers doing more to minimise waste, such as selling more loose produce and smaller portions. But in reality, convenience is a huge driver for consumers and everyday low prices come from supermarkets being able to sell in packs.

“Retailers have the capability and information to help consumers to waste less, but both sides need to work more closely in order to understand the implications of change.

“For example, loose produce is more vulnerable to damage and therefore has higher wastage as shoppers will always pick out the healthiest-looking products. Loose produce or smaller portions will also need to be managed in different ways through the supply chain, so investment in trials will be crucial to making this work.

“However, retailers can take action to minimise food waste to meet consumer demands in ways that won’t heavily impact their cost base, such as moving away from using black plastic packaging as much of this colour isn’t correctly picked out in recycling plants.

“In turn, consumers can also become more conscious of food waste by making small changes such as noticing when items expire – only a fifth of our research respondents said they checked the use-by date before throwing away food.”

He added: “Overall, retailers need to be able to mitigate any increased production costs so they can deliver greater choice for consumers.

“One such initiative would be to work with government to encourage new green tax incentives that would enable retailers to invest more in their supply chains and move towards ‘greener’ alternatives together.”