Household food waste: attitudes and behaviours

Start date:
November 2006
April 2007

This project was designed to gain a better understanding of public attitudes to food waste and the values that underpin them. The findings from the research, taken in conjunction with a number of parallel projects, fed into the development of WRAP's Love Food, Hate Waste campaign.

The principal objectives of the research were to:

  • Identify public attitudes and behaviours on food and wastage from which campaign messages could be developed and refined;
  • Identify key target audiences, barriers, ‘hooks’ and intervention points for key segments of the population;
  • Develop a key performance indicator (KPI) against which campaign impact can be measured and, if possible, to populate this with baseline data.

Phase I Methodology
The first phase of the research consisted of a survey of a representative sample of 1,862 GB householders aged 16+, which ran between 18 November and 3 December 2006. A filter question was asked to ensure interviews were conducted with household members with a degree of responsibility for grocery shopping and/or cooking. The questionnaire was designed by Brook Lyndhurst in conjunction with WRAP. Interviews were then conducted by ICM.

Phase I Findings
Almost everyone we surveyed admitted to wasting at least some food and our research indicated that around a third of households are ‘high food wasters’. Having said this, many people do not appreciate the quantity of food wasted - 90% claimed to waste very little food (“some”, “a small amount”, “hardly any” or “none”).

Our work identified more than 30 reasons for food being wasted in the home including:

  • buying too much – particularly due to the temptation of special offers such as buy one, get one free deals;
  • buying more perishable food – often as the result of trying to eat more healthily;
  • poor storage management – not eating food in date order (choosing food on impulse, often driven by ‘spontaneous’ and ‘top up’ shopping);
  • ad hoc, rather than methodical, ‘spring cleaning’ of stored products;
  • high sensitivity to food hygiene – one in five said they wouldn't take a chance with food close to its ‘best before’ date, even if it looked fine;
  • preparing too much food in general;
  • not liking the food prepared – 22% of families with children stated that not liking a meal was a cause of food waste; and
  • lifestyle factors – such as not having the time to plan meals, or having fluid work and social patterns (particularly true of young professionals).
  • Our research also found evidence of a lack of awareness and understanding of the environmental implications of food waste. Consumers often do not appear to make the connection between the food they throw away and its impact upon the environment, even though around half of us (49%) say that the issue of food waste does bother us.

The findings from this phase are available to download using the link in the centre column.

Phase II Methodology
In Phase II, Brook Lyndhurst undertook 15 focus groups in eight locations across England. The groups began with open-ended discussions of values and beliefs around food waste before moving into consideration of seven different messaging options. Mood boards were used to test a number of potential campaign themes and the final report formed the basis of the creative brief for the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign. Brook Lyndhurst was retained by WRAP to offer on-going advice on the campaign’s development.

Phase II Findings
Among the key findings of the second phase of research were:

  • It is easy to over-estimate the amount of thought people give to the act of throwing food away. The focus groups backed up the survey by uncovering widespread denial among consumers about how much they waste. People’s knee-jerk reaction is to say that they do not waste a lot of food but, when prompted to think about their habits in more detail, they admit to throwing away a large number of items. Leftovers are probably the type of food waste consumers are least conscious of;
  • Everyone has more than one reason why they waste food but the causes generally fall under four generic headings:
    • Supermarkets – consumers blame retailers for 'making' them buy too much
    • Poor planning/food management
    • Personal choice and lifestyle
    • Lack of skills
  • Generally, very few people were making any effort at all to reduce the amount of food they threw away.

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