Ethics and the environment are playing a greater role in today's consumers purchasing decisions. According to a recent World Menu Report, 84% of respondents were concerned with the levels of food waste generated in restaurants and eateries. It's reasonable that the same consumers will have concerns about waste generated by their supermarkets as well.
However, it might surprise many consumers to know their role in the estimated $27 billion in Canadian foodstuff that ends up in landfills and compost facilities annually. Examining the percentage of waste caused by different activities throughout the supply chain, 'waste at home' is responsible for 51% of the total food wasted in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2010). Topping the 'most wasted list', vegetables, homemade meals, grains and bakery products, fruits and berries and milk products.
A direct cause of consumer food waste is overbuying. Canadian family units are getting smaller, with more single and two-person households, yet food package sizes do not necessarily keep pace with consumers' changing needs. A recent Finnish study (MTT Agrifood Research Finland, 2011), showed that single and two-person households typically produce more avoidable waste per person.
The following in-store merchandizing and communication strategies can encourage customers to shop smarter:
- Offer the most perishable items such as fresh herbs and baby salad greens in smaller packages or loose form. Take a cue from Longos Supermarkets and other retailers who now sell more convenient mini packs of fresh herbs such as parsley, dill and coriander at affordable prices.
- Create a bring-your-own container system, where consumers can bring or buy re-usable containers to be weighed pre and post bulk purchases of dry goods. ASDA, the UK subsidiary of Walmart, is currently testing in-store vending stations that allow consumers to refill pouches of fabric conditioner.
- Rethink in-store specials on perishable items. For instance, British multinational grocery retailer, Tesco, has launched a "Buy One Get One Free...Later" coupon that allows consumers to come back to redeem the second item at a later time.
- Educate consumers about the difference between "sell by", "best before" and "expiry" dates. For a convenient handheld example, the StillTasty app for iPhone users provides a handy shelf-life guide and sends alerts to warn consumers when food is about to expire. (http://www.stilltasty.com/)
- Provide information at point of sale about how to extend the life of produce and meats through proper storage techniques. Collaborations with other key partners in waste reduction (like Ziploc), is one approach that can both educate consumers and promote product purchase at the same time. (http://www.ziploc.com/ShelfLife/Pages/default.aspx)
- Use in-store leaflets and online website or newsletter communications to provide recipes and tips to help consumers transform leftovers into nutritious meals. Look to a recent post from an Independent Ontario retailer for inspiration; Vince's Market shared advice on using up old produce to make Leftover Veggie Soup. (http://vincesmarket.ca/2011/03/15/reduce-your-food-waste-leftover-veggie-soup/)
While grocery retailers can play a substantial role in reducing food waste through policy changes at all stages of the food chain; changing consumer behavior through innovative merchandizing tactics and education can be one of the most effective ways to prevent unnecessary food waste.