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During the pandemic, consumers spent more time at home and began shopping more intentionally. According to the food waste charity WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, these newfound food management behaviours resulted in a 43% decline in household food waste.
Unfortunately, as the group’s most recent UK Food Trends Survey has revealed, self-reported food waste has bounced back to pre-lockdown levels as UK reopens.
During lockdown, almost four in five people took up an average of 6.7 new food management behaviours, such as freezing, using up leftovers and batch cooking, causing self-reported food waste to plummet. Levels of bread, chicken, milk and potato waste fell from nearly a quarter of all items purchased in November 2019 to 13.7% in April 2020.
According to the data, three in 10 people are now classified as ‘high food wasters’ – on par with the findings from before the pandemic.
This is down to two factors, the group said: consumers are dropping the new habits they adopted as time pressures return, particularly as meal planning and home cooking drop; and more people are eating out or buying takeaways. On average, consumers ate 7.6 takeaways or out-of-home meals in the past month, compared to six in September 2020.
Retailers and distributors who are looking to boost their sustainability credentials are taking on the food waste issue in order to reduce their shop’s carbon footprint and those of their customers who are keen to adopt eco-friendly lifestyle changes.
For example, Hannah Anderson, managing director for 44 Foods, explained to Speciality Food how taking a different approach to large supermarkets helped the business cut down on food waste.
“We have the great advantage of being able to order products to meet demand,” said Hannah. “In comparison, the conventional model requires a lot of guess work, trying to predict buying habits in a period of complete unpredictability. This is causing huge issues in food waste in stores.
“On top of that, to smooth out these issues, many competitors store chilled food in huge depots which means that customer shelf life is also shorter leading to more household waste,” Hannah continued. Instead, 44 Foods orders products from suppliers only after they have been purchased online. “By buying to meet demand, we don’t store chilled food giving customers maximum shelf life and minimising waste. We also do not have any wastage ourselves.
“We ask customers to give us a four-day lead time so we can procure products properly with the maximum life we can get. This helps everyone with waste, even the suppliers,” she said.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said more must be done to keep food out of the bins, although the UK is already making good progress with a 7% reduction in waste per capita between 2015 and 2018. She suggested encouraging consumers to make shopping lists and ensuring they store food correctly and use their freezers where possible – something that retailers can promote in store. “By making these small, positive changes to our everyday lives, we can all make a real difference.”
“Cutting food waste is a great way we can all make a difference in the fight against climate change,” added cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport Michael Matheson. “With the COP26 climate conference coming to Glasgow this year, there’s never been a better time to take action.”