EU: The Food Industry Bears Responsibility in Helping Consumers Waste Less Food

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Over the past year, most Norwegians have reduced the waste of the most expensive food items, but we still discard a significant amount of bread, vegetables, and liquid dairy products. Smaller packaging sizes might offer the solution.

On behalf of Matvett, NORSUS conducts annual consumer surveys about Norwegians' habits, attitudes, and behaviors related to food waste.

This year's survey reveals a significant decrease in waste of relatively expensive food items. However, the most discarded items remain bread, vegetables, liquid dairy products, and beverages, with most of the waste being unused or partially used food. The primary reasons for waste include forgetting about food in the fridge or elsewhere, short shelf life or poor quality upon purchase, and buying too much. Over-purchasing often results from oversized consumer packaging, miscalculating needs, or forgetting what's at home.

Forty-something-year-olds are the worst offenders

It has long been known that younger individuals waste the most, but this trend appears to be shifting: Young people have reduced their self-reported food waste from 2022 to 2023, while older individuals have increased theirs. Now, those aged between 40 and 50 waste the most.

The survey also shows that individuals who regularly harvest, hunt, cultivate, or fish their food report less waste than others, while those who frequently use take-away services report more waste.

The food industry's role and responsibility

Our report and research from the EU's Consumer Food Waste Forum indicates that the food industry and authorities bear a significant responsibility in aiding consumers to reduce waste. Shelf life, quality, packaging sizes, along with measures or nudges to assist consumers in making responsible choices during critical food waste moments, are areas where the food industry and authorities should further focus to help consumers waste less food.

More concretely, this involves:

  • The food industry developing and utilizing new technology and innovations to improve product quality and shelf life.
  • The food industry, for certain product categories, working on more flexible consumer packaging sizes (primarily applicable to bread, fruits and vegetables, and liquid dairy products).
  • The food industry and other entities developing new innovative digital and physical solutions (e.g., introducing 2D codes including expiration dates, smart refrigerators, storage solutions, apps, etc.) for better oversight, planning, reminders, and inspiration to consume food before it spoils (push notifications).
  • The food industry and authorities influencing consumer behavior in critical moments of food waste (planning, purchasing, storage, preparation, and consumption) by nudging on packaging and at the point of purchase and developing solutions to help consumers waste less.
  • The government funding research and innovations to better understand how to reduce food waste and increase the rate of reduction toward 2030 and beyond.

How to waste less bread?

In the Norwegian Research Council (NFR) financed project "Bread Rescuers," owned by Nofima, our researcher Aina Stensgård will investigate how the food industry can help consumers waste less, with a specific focus on bread. The project will test various consumer interventions and business strategies to reduce bread waste from production to consumption.