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Hand in Hand Against Food Waste: Government and Consumers Joining Forces

Since the formation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations [1], many initiatives have been launched to achieve the 2030 climate goal deadline. The EU Commission announced they are proposing to set legally binding food waste reduction targets [2] to accelerate EU efforts toward reaching SDG target 2: Zero Hunger (“waste less food and support local farmers”). Member states are expected to implement these measures to reduce food waste by 2030. More specifically, these measures should lead to a 10% decrease in food waste in processing and manufacturing and a 30% decrease in food waste in restaurants, food service and households. Consumers, however, will play a role in the policy’s success.

Consumer food waste concerns & involvement

In defining its Top Ten Trends for 2023 , Innova Market Insights highlighted that consumers expect brands to meet their core values at an economic price. Planetary health has been a clear part of these values: Innova’s surveys show that, when asked which aspects should drive new product development, more than 1 in 4 consumers responded that they want environmental considerations to be part of future NPD, with similar importance for flavor and naturalness. In addition, an impressive 9 in 10 consumers sometimes consider the environment when choosing food. It may not be the main purchase driver (yet) for the majority of consumers, but it can certainly be the tie breaker when making a choice between two similar products.

Regarding what consumers are willing to spend, they revealed they justify paying more due to ethical concerns, with food waste being their second largest concern. Two in three consumers are prepared to pay more for products designed to tackle food waste. When asked how cutting costs or reducing spending would affect their actions regarding social or environmental choices, one in three consumers revealed that they would minimize food waste.

As for in-house behavior, consumers say they are actively taking measures to minimize food waste and adopting numerous strategies to do so. Their primary action is reusing leftovers , which aligns with the larger idea of upcycling. While this focus indicates clear interest in the concept of upcycling, only 14% of consumers so far say they purchase upcycled products. However, with waste being a critical issue, increased availability and understanding of upcycled foods are expected to translate into future purchases.

Waste reduction is an important personal focus for eco-conscious consumers (Source: Innova Lifestyle & Attitudes Survey 2023)

Global food waste expectations for restaurants & retail

Besides consumers’ own waste reduction methods and approaches, they have expectations for companies as well. A 2023 Innova survey shows that 29% of consumers want companies to improve waste management and reduce waste in manufacturing . As for wider food services, consumers consider waste reduction the main sustainability issue. There is also a growing concern about waste from excessive portions alongside kitchen waste.

These consumer concerns are not unfounded: according to a report by the UN Environment Programme, around 931 million tonnes of food waste were generated in 2019, with 39% coming from retail and food service. [3]

In the retail arena, Kroger is setting a standard by expanding their private label portfolio with more upcycled products. [4]

Upward trend for upcycled products

Upcycled products and products with rescued ingredients are still a niche category largely found in the treat categories and beverages. However, data shows that between 2022 and 2023, the appeal of upcycled food has risen, with 43% consumers now showing interest vs 35% the previous year. This is also reflected in the continued growth in upcycled launches which has shown a 61% +CAGR in the past five years. This positive movement in upcycling is expected to be most appealing to Millennials and Gen Z. Younger generations are expected to drive the upcycling movement, with 50% of Gen Z believing that upcycled ingredients are of better quality than regular ingredients. This is compared to 41% of Gen X and only 30% of Boomers. On the other hand, 57% of Millennials claim they are “very” or “extremely” willing to buy products with upcycled ingredients compared to 48% of Gen Z and 42% of Boomers.

What’s next?

The EU’s newly proposed food waste goals come at a time when consumers have already started making efforts to reduce food waste and reuse leftovers, with the added benefit of reducing their spending. These efforts are expected to be continued by younger generations, who will further prioritize environmental benefits in their purchasing behavior and their expectations for NPD. With consumers and governments increasingly on board, all eyes are on retail, restaurants and the food industry as a whole to innovate and optimize for the sake of a healthier planet.

By Innova Market Insights