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Confusing results from supermarket's food waste drive and media influence

Staff Writer | March 13, 2017
A recent study, publicised by the EU Commission in its Science for Environment Policy bulletin this week, has examined three media-based campaigns designed by a UK supermarket to help reduce food waste.
Supermarket food waste
Research   The supermarket study
Each of the supermarket’s campaigns - on social media, in print and digital magazines, and an e-newsletter - seemed to lead to reductions in consumer waste, but similar behaviour changes were also seen in customers who hadn’t engaged with any of the campaigns.

According to figures published in January by waste reduction charity WRAP, over 70% of food wasted past the farm gate in the UK happens in households.

Like most Western countries, food waste in the UK mostly occurs later in the supply chain (in processing, hospitality and at consumers’ homes); the further along the supply chain food is wasted, the greater the environmental impact of this waste is, given that more resources will have gone into preparing, packaging and transporting the food.

The supermarket study, first published in the journal Resources conservation and Recycling, looked into whether different media could have a similar effect to face-to-face advice, which has been shown to encourage people to act on food waste.

upermarket chain Asda produced an article with tips from experts on reducing waste from the most commonly wasted foodstuffs, which was featured in its own magazine (which has a circulation of 1.9m readers), it also sent out two articles in its online newsletter (which goes out to 1.4m customers), one looking at how to store food to keep it fresh, the other at food waste and using leftovers.

Lastly, the supermarket posted a campaign on its Facebook page, encouraging customers to post advice and recipes for using leftovers, with links to more online content on reducing waste.

Just over 2,000 customers then completed a questionnaire on food waste three times.

The first time, just before the media campaigns, the second just afterwards and the third time five months after the different articles and social media campaign.

A control group of people who hadn’t seen any of the campaigns were also questioned.

Five months after the e-newsletter and social media articles, Asda customers were reportedly wasting less food at home, but those who read the magazine article showed little change in their behaviour.

Whilst this could look like social media and online campaigns successfully changed people’s behaviour, the control group, who hadn’t seen any of the campaign material, also significantly reduced their food wastage after five months.

The researchers trying to make sense of the confusing results have suggested that either the control group were influenced by other, similar messages from elsewhere, or social media isn’t a good place to influence behavioural change.

They are suggesting that their messages to reduce food waste may have conflicted with other adverts, encouraging social media users to consume more, which are common on Facebook.