Online grocery shopping could cause food waste to pile up
- Online grocery shopping may save consumers time, but it also could waste more food and money than shopping in-store, according to a new report cited by Food Navigator-USA.
- Dr. Veronika Ilyuk, assistant professor of marketing and international business at Hofstra University, said because consumers don’t put forth as much effort in selecting and bagging the products at the supermarket, they feel less responsible for them and are not as concerned about throwing them away at home.
- Ilyuk said in the study that “consumer food waste is a significant and growing concern” with online grocery shopping expected to increase to 20% of the market by 2025.
The amount of food wasted is staggering. Each year, more than 130 billion pounds of food is lost or wasted in the U.S., with the average family throwing away $1,500 in groceries. Much of the food that’s lost tends to be the most nutritious: fruits, vegetables, dairy and grain.
Wasted food is not just a problem in the U.S. — about one-third of all of produce around the world goes to waste. The challenge can have far-reaching consequences beyond lost food and money to include wasted energy, labor and land.
While online shoppers contribute to food waste, those who visit traditional brick-and-mortar stores are not immune either. Particularly with produce, consumers like bright, shiny, “perfect” products, and aren’t as likely to purchase a bruised or misshapen apple, even if the texture and flavor are ideal.
Grocers, eager to meet consumer expectations, try to offer a bonanza of produce options. But through overstocking, along with poor forecasting and ordering, throw out 10% of the food that is produced. Even earlier in the supply chain, buyers, anticipating consumer expectations for beautiful produce, may not purchase items that have inconsequential dings or scars. In 2015, for instance, 6.7 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables went unharvested or unsold by growers.
In the U.S., where 41.2 million people are food insecure, donating excess food isn’t always an easy answer. Various foods, such as produce, have different handling needs. Maintaining food safety, as well as managing additional inventory and transportation issues, makes food donations an expensive proposition.
Grocers have increasingly looked for ways to address food waste. Since 2011, the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, a coalition of the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has worked to reduce food waste through recycling and donations.
Walmart and Whole Foods started regional programs promoting “ugly produce,” encouraging consumers to buy the less than perfect fruits and vegetables, often at a reduced price. Kroger announced an ambitious plan to eliminate food waste by 2025, and Tesco, a leading U.K. grocery store, works with produce growers to harvest more efficiently. Big data also helps as insights gathered from all steps in the supply chain can identify areas to increase efficiency and anticipate consumer behavior.
For consumers, increased awareness is key. Grocer marketing campaigns can emphasize the necessity of not overbuying, and try to make eating leftovers more palletable.” Similar to Tesco, e-commerce retailers and brick and mortar grocers could reduce BOGO offers to reduce overconsumption. Stores that sell “ugly produce” could provide recipes that use the foods, in ways that disguise any imperfections.
This isn’t an easy task. Even as businesses take steps to reduce waste from their end, in this age of the consumer, shoppers may balk at the suggestion that they accept any reduction in options. However, the youngest generation of consumers is passionate about protecting the environment, so this message tying over-purchasing to caring for the environment may resonate with this audience — a factor that grocers and food manufacturers should keep in mind.