Typically, consumer trends imply carefree or abundant purchases of a given commodity, whether it’s a particular brand-name item of clothing, the latest tech gadget, or the most coveted toy of the season. But one of the latest trends in food—the issue of food waste—is prompting consumers to pause and ask, “Do I need this now?” and “Will I be able to use all of it?” in an effort to make more intentional purchases.
The growing impact of food waste
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 30 and 40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted—either by spoiling or by being discarded before it is consumed—each year. That’s an estimated $162 billion worth of food. In addition to economic costs, the impact food waste has on the environment is jarring: Landfills full of decomposing food release methane, which is said to be at least 20 times more lethal a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Food waste is a worldwide issue—one that has been an area of concern and focus across the produce, retail, and foodservice industries for some time. In recent years, it has also gone mainstream: Consumers are talking about it, too.
What do consumers think about food waste?
Robinson Fresh conducted a survey with U.S. consumers to learn more about their perspectives on fresh fruit and vegetable food waste and some of the solutions that are being put in place to help reduce it. Key findings are outlined in our insights paper, Squashing Food Waste, including these statistics:
- 85% of surveyed consumers indicated that they discarded fresh produce because they saw physical spoilage. They also remarked that they threw away food because of expiration dates and because they purchased more than what was needed.
- Food waste bothered surveyed consumers primarily because it wastes money (82%) and good food (76%).
Consumers have a picture in their minds of what fresh, quality food looks like. Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables have an innate tendency to bruise or brown, wilt, scar, or discolor as they move from the field to stores, restaurants, and consumers’ kitchens. And those “imperfections” often land fruits and vegetables in the trash—even if they’re still just as nutritious and flavorful as their more aesthetically-blessed counterparts.
What’s more, growers harvest and pack the produce that consumers want. If consumers are not showing demand for imperfect produce, growers will not bring it to market and will, instead, discard those items in the field—a reality for 20-40% of fresh produce.
A solution: Embrace, don’t waste, imperfect produce
To help shift consumers’ thinking toward embracing imperfect or irregular-looking produce, Robinson Fresh offers the Misfits® program. This food rescue program aims to reduce the amount of produce that would otherwise be discarded—because of minor blemishes, slight discoloration, or unusual sizes that do not necessarily affect freshness or quality—by selling it at reduced prices.
According to our research, 69% of consumers said the concept was “appealing to very appealing,” primarily for the purposes of helping farmers reduce food waste and adding to their bottom lines. They also replied favorably to the concept for its ability of helping the consumer save money and helping the environment.
You can learn more about the program in this short video.
As consumer awareness of food waste continues to rise, it’s increasingly important to be cognizant of the actionable solutions that can help reduce waste. Selling imperfect and irregular-looking produce is one option for retailers; others include helping educate consumers about proper ways to store produce so that it lasts longer once they get it home, giving them ideas about how to use produce in more ways (e.g., using overripe bananas to bake banana bread, blending wilted spinach in smoothies, or transforming misshapen fruits and veggies into salsas), and providing tips to use more of the produce they purchase, from root to stem or seed to stalk.
If you’d like to learn more about The Misfits® program, connect with one of our fresh experts.