Author: Nathalie Van der Wel

How expiry labels accelerate food waste

How expiry labels accelerate food waste

You needed some cream for a Christmas dessert and put the carton back in the fridge only to forget it for a week. Now you realise you could use it for today’s breakfast, but it is expired. Do you throw it away?

Many of us bin expired food even when there is a chance that it may still be good. Perfectly good food is often wasted because we would rather trust a printed date than our own sense of taste and smell. Could expiry dates do more harm than good?

We wanted to know how consumers deal with printed expiry labels and how these labels influenced their food shopping behaviour. For instance, do people pay attention to labels for frozen foods? Or dried foods? Are people as cautious with expiry labels at home as they are in the supermarket? These are questions we addressed in our study.

Client:

University of Reading, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

Brief:

To understand consumers’ attitudes towards expiry labels and explore consumer behaviour surrounding expiry dates with foods in supermarkets compared to at home. 

Our approach:

A qualitative study took place in the Citizen Participation Forum with 56 participants across 17 different countries in Europe. The participants were recruited through a professional panel. Participants completed a range of activities, including a questionnaire and took part in multiple interactive discussions. 

Findings in a nutshell:

The large majority of participants find expiry dates important and pay attention to them when buying food. They pay particular attention to the expiry dates of dairy products, meat products, seafood, eggs and bread. 

Mostly, participants say they are wary of eating expired food for their health. So, out of caution they dispose of food, even if they believe that the food item likely is not yet spoilt. Furthermore, participants will purchase the item with the furthest expiry date, even if they are planning to use it right away. All in all, participants believe that expiry labels are there for their safety, while also admitting that they find expiry dates exaggerated, and that these labels therefore contribute to increased food waste. 

Expiry labels can help consumers avoid unnecessary food waste, for example by indicating how they can use their senses to judge the safety of their food in addition to indicated dates.

Find out more:

Contact us to find out more about the results, or how we can tailor consumer insights to your product or company. 

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Does compostable food packaging make sense?

Does compostable food packaging make sense?

Environmentally, yes. Food waste and packaging waste are large sustainability concerns. If food packaging could be composted, we would substantially reduce the amount of waste that enters into landfills. However, from the perspective of the consumer, the end-user of food products, merely making food packaging compostable does not seem to be the answer to these problems. 

Consumers are responsible for the correct disposal of food (packaging) waste, and are therefore crucial in food sustainability efforts. This is why we studied consumers’ attitudes towards sustainability, food waste, and food packaging.  

Client:

University of Reading, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

Brief:

We set out to better understand consumer attitudes toward food sustainability, food waste, food packaging, and how these factors influence their food choices. Also, two different ways of communication aimed at increasing the recycling of food packaging at public events were evaluated. 

Our approach:

A qualitative study took place in the Citizen Participation Forum with 61 participants across 18 different countries in Europe. The participants were recruited through a professional panel. Participants completed a range of activities, including a questionnaire, photo-challenges, and took part in multiple interactive discussions. 

Findings in a nutshell:

We found that visual cues on food packaging is crucial for consumers to assess the sustainability of food products and how they should handle packaging waste.  Still, many consumers appear to mistrust these labels. Additionally, it seems that many participants are able to identify plastic packaging that can be recycled. Many participants express that they find recycling important and claim that they recycle on a daily basis. However, when participants were asked about compostable packaging, a large group of consumers seemed to not be entirely sure about what that means, or how it works. Furthermore, many of them expressed that they currently prefer packaging that is recyclable, rather than compostable, for a big part because they are unfamiliar with the latter. This study has made it clear that there is a knowledge gap when it comes to compostable packaging. If we want compostable packaging to become more widely accepted, we will need to help consumers better understand how it works, what the environmental benefit is over recycling, and how they can most conveniently and effectively dispose of it.  

Find out more:

Contact us to find out more about the results, or how we can tailor consumer insights to your product or company. 

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