New Delhi: Uneaten food on consumers’ plates makes up 34 per cent of food waste in the hospitality sector – an extravagance the industry could do without in the face of Covid-19, a University of Otago study argues.
The study, recently published in Sustainability, surveyed 1001 people about food waste when dining out and found people wasted more food if the meal was expensive, longer in duration or at dinnertime. It also found the key motivator to reduce food waste was saving money, followed by saving hungry people, saving the planet and preventing guilt. Lead author Francesca Goodman-Smith, who completed the research after finishing her Master of Science at Otago, was surprised by the result that people wasted more of a costly meal. “This could be because people dining in expensive establishments may have more disposable income and the value they place on food for survival may be less than, for example, someone facing food insecurity would. They may also be more concerned about overconsumption,” she says.
On the other hand, the result that saving money was the number one motivator to reduce food waste for consumers was not surprising, but was important. “Too many food waste reduction campaigns focus on environmental motivators, rather than financial ones. These campaigns could be more successful if they leverage the cost saving elements of food waste reduction – when multiple motivators are at play consumers are far more likely to change their behaviour to avoid wasting food.”
Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for change, with the food industry forced to redefine itself and consumers in a state of flux.
“The pandemic has significantly impacted the hospitality sector and cost saving measures are essential for businesses, but also for customers. Addressing food waste is a practical action businesses can take – for every dollar invested in activity to reduce food waste the hospitality sector can realise $14 of benefit,” she says.
Reducing food waste is also a tangible way the industry can connect with and act on consumer values. “Consumers are more receptive to change now. This is an opportunity for cafés and restaurants to make zero food waste the ‘new normal’, offer different portion sizes, use apps to offer discounted food to customers before they close, and connect with food rescue organisations to distribute food to those in need.”
Co-author Associate Professor Miranda Mirosa, of the Department of Food Science, says businesses can action cost saving and food waste reduction measures by providing doggy bags and reusable returnable container schemes to consumers, allowing sides to be substituted, entrees to be ordered as mains, and offering smaller portion sizes at reduced prices. “There are benefits to both the business and the consumer in reducing plate waste. The business can save money on ordering food that then is thrown away, they can save on waste disposal costs –which are going to increase as landfill levies increase – and they can obtain corporate social responsibility brownie points by communicating to customers that they do not tolerate food waste.
“Consumers can gain from reducing food waste by saving money by ordering smaller portions, taking their left-overs away so that they don’t need to buy a meal the next day, and the feel-good factor of supporting New Zealand’s efforts to reduce food waste.”