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Consumers & food waste: decoding behaviors in food services

Published on : 9/29/20
  • Food waste is at the heart of contemporary debate with ethical, societal and environmental dimensions. One third of the food produced is being wasted around the world. If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China. 

    Preventing food waste is therefore the single most important area where food services companies like Sodexo can work to reduce emissions. With an impact all along the supply chain and numerous existing initiatives, we are genuinely concerned about the issue and have initiated the deployment of the largest, digitally-driven, food waste prevention program in the food services industry, WasteWatch in 2019.

    We believe the context and experience of dining can influence food waste behaviors. Food waste is a subject that can trigger disagreement: values and beliefs do not always lead to actions. Also, the settings of the corporate cafeteria or the university campus dining area bring distinct challenges when it comes to preventing food waste, before food even reaches the consumer and also how consumers behave in these environments. 

    With the help of Ogilvy Consulting, we decided to survey 4,360 students and working adults, who visit their corporate cafeteria or university campus dining areas at least twice a week, in 5 key markets: Canada, France, Ireland, UK and the US between January and March 2020. 

    We believe the findings from this survey can be valuable for everyone that is part of the food value chain from the growers to the consumers. Acknowledging this survey was conducted pre-Covid-19, we still believe the findings are relevant to share with meaningful learnings. The analysis was completed by behavioral and ethnographic observations to corporate restaurants and the university campus dining areas in each country.

    Through this survey, we gained a further understanding of the perception of and behaviors around food waste in these settings. We hope to improve how food services providers can engage with consumers and identify solutions to prevent food waste. 

    5 Key Learnings:

    Concern and awareness don’t always lead to action, despite the cost

    When prompted, a large majority of respondents claim to be concerned and agree that food waste is an important environmental issue that requires urgent attention. With 69% claiming to be taking action regularly on food waste, a majority don’t believe they waste too much, despite estimating that food waste is costing them 18 euros per week on average.

    Different context, different behaviors, high expectations

    Only 21% of respondents perceived their company restaurant or university campus dining locations are the place where they waste the most food. They also have high expectations of food waste management - less than 50% believe that everything is being done at their respective restaurant to reduce food waste.

    Food quality matters 

    While 85% of respondents are satisfied with the quality of the food at their company or university restaurants, quality remains a key factor affecting the respondent's tendency to waste at their collective restaurants. Of those satisfied with the quality of the food, 58% estimate they waste less food while eating at a company restaurant or university campus dining locations compared to at home. More than two thirds of the respondents who were not satisfied with the food quality are stating the opposite. 

    Consumers need help to keep the issue top of mind

    While 81% acknowledged that reducing food waste depends on their own actions, they also recognize that they think about food waste less in their company or university restaurant setting compared to while doing grocery shopping or preparing a meal.

    Consumers are open to changes to join the fight against food waste

    The acknowledgement of the difficulty to keep the issue of food waste top of mind is probably part of the explanation as to why 78% of respondents expect some help from their food services outlets to reduce food waste. Whilst adjustable portion sizes is the most popular proposition, consumers are also keen for awareness campaigns and adjusted services to avoid food waste. Consumers are also open to smaller portions sizes and simpler menus, but based on observations, these need to be carefully planned and communicated.  

    Discover the findings from our food waste survey.

    Sodexo & Ogilvy Consulting: Ogilvy Consulting is the global strategy and innovation arm of the world’s greatest creative network, The Ogilvy Group. At Ogilvy Consulting, we believe in the power of brand, customer experience, data and technology to transform businesses, and drive growth. In an era of great fragmentation, brands are the connective tissue for complex organizations and global economies.

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