Reshape Consumer Environments
Key Action Area
Reshape Consumer Environments
Reshape Consumer Environments
Households are the greatest source of food waste in the US, making this a critical area for action. In 2021, nearly half of all surplus food across the supply chain was generated by consumers, for reasons ranging from spoilage, concerns about date labels, fear that something has been left out too long, and simply not wanting leftovers. While not understanding proper food management is a big cause, much of the food waste coming from consumers occurs because of decisions made by other actors upstream in the supply chain.
"Reshaping consumer environments" means driving consumers toward better food management and less waste by creating shopping, cooking, and eating environments that promote those behaviors. There’s also a big opportunity to shift our overall culture to place more value on food and to make sure that people truly understand the implications of food waste for our environment, economy, and more. Retail, foodservice establishments, and homes are environments where the narrative around food purchasing, consumption, and management can be shifted. In dining environments, solutions that encourage less wasteful consumption patterns can include offering smaller portion sizes, using smaller plates, or removing trays in efforts to minimize consumers taking more than they will eat. In shopping environments, solutions include integrating meal planning support into customer assistance or creating promotions that don’t promote over-purchasing. More broadly, awareness and education campaigns are an important solution to help shift our culture towards greater appreciation for our food and the resources that went into it.
Nearly two-thirds of the prospective funding for reshaping consumer environments draws from Corporate Finance and Spending, in which businesses stand to gain brand and reputation benefits through improving their customers’ food management habits. Government Grants can play a significant role in funding local and national consumer campaigns. Private Equity and Venture Capital can fund the remaining need to further the innovation of in-home food management technologies that help consumers manage their food better, ultimately leading to less waste.
Key Indicators (Annual)
Interventions which are either not clearly definable as a specific solution, such as incremental improvement of existing common processes, or solutions that have already been implemented by a sufficiently large number of stakeholders such that there is little additional opportunity for them to address food waste that is still happening in the U.S. today.
Frozen Value-Added Processing of Fresh Produce
Quick freezing storage method for produce in order to increase shelf life, maintain nutrient content, and eliminate concern for damage or blemishes, best used for items that might not meet in-store specifications.
Menu design with intentional focus on dishes that can be flexible in portion size, ingredient substitution and versatility, and à la carte options.
Storage containers and packaging for consumers to take home leftover food and reduce waste.
Free Items (e.g., bread, chips) Offered Upon Request
Practice of bringing free goods to customers by request, rather than as protocol.
Storytelling (e.g, product impact, source, upcycled ingredient components)
Integration of narrative into the presentation of food in order to increase consumer awareness of food sources and embedded resources.
- Government to Invest Long-Term in Consumer Education - Despite this being one of the most impactful action areas to fight food waste, the associated solutions can be harder to fund from more traditional sources of capital, since the return on investment is mostly derived from societal good and lacks direct financial return. Especially for those solutions that drive the most impact but require a significant investment to work effectively at changing behaviors, government sources may be the most appropriate capital provider.
- Corporate Funding Supports Strategy and Branding Push - A number of solutions in this action area are expected to be mostly financed through corporate finance, given that they require corporate decisions with potential financial benefits. Even a national, government-funded consumer education program can benefit from support from private stakeholders such as food businesses to help increase awareness, offer strategies for food waste reduction, and promote a culture of active waste avoidance. Corporations will not necessarily be viewing this type of spending from a return on investment perspective, but rather as a broad ESG or CSR strategy and/or brand/reputation-building.
- Philanthropic Funding Aids Small to Medium Sized Food Businesses - To aid in adoption of solutions for small to medium-sized businesses (e.g., many restaurants), Impact-First Investors, Non-Government Grants, and Local Government Grants can cover the upfront costs and incentive solutions like trayless dining systems and employee training.
Annual Investment Needed
Government Grants - $157.4M
Non-Government Grants - $60.9M
Impact-First Investments - $5.2M
Venture Capital - $89.1M
Private Equity - $88.3M
Corporate Finance & Spending- $510.3M
- Fund or Implement Consumer Education Campaigns - [Federal, State, Local; Legislative, Regulatory] Households are the biggest source of food waste in the U.S., yet American consumers perceive themselves as wasting little, with nearly three-quarters reporting that they discard less food than the average American. Given this lack of awareness, education campaigns on food waste are critical. Rather than creating multiple campaigns, the federal government could create a single campaign that can be used by state and local governments, businesses, and community organizations so that consumers receive the same message from multiple channels.
- Support Food Waste Reduction and Recovery Programs in Schools- [Federal, State, Local; Legislative, Regulatory] Schools could implement food waste and recovery measures with funding for food storage facilities, on-site composting facilities, share tables, the administration of food donation programs, and educational programming. Federal, state, or local governments could award grants on a competitive basis to schools to conduct food waste audits and to implement such reforms.
- Implement School Lunch Changes - [Federal, State, Local; Legislative, Regulatory] A few changes to the format of school meal programs are proven to lead to more food being eaten, and thus less food going to waste during school meals. Longer lunch periods provide students enough time to select and eat their meals and thus waste less food. Shifting lunch time to occur after recess has been shown to increase the likelihood of students making healthier choices and reducing food waste by 30%. The "Offer Versus Serve" (OVS) meal reimbursement model decreases waste by not forcing students to take items they do not plan to eat. Under USDA regulations, OVS is optional in elementary and middle schools, but required in high schools. The federal government or state or local governments can reduce plate waste by incentivizing schools to implement OVS for all grade-levels and mandating longer lunch periods and recess before lunch.
- Require Standardized Date Labels - [Federal, State; Legislative, Regulatory] Voluntary initiatives in the U.S. have coalesced around “BEST if Used By” as the term for date labels indicating food’s peak quality and “USE By” for labels intended to indicate safety. This standardization only works, however, if there is full adoption across the industry. To ensure that occurs, Congress (or state governments) could require standardization by limiting date labeling language on all products to those two options. In addition, governments could expressly permit the donation of food after the peak quality date and promote consumer education and awareness on the meaning of date labels.
- Emphasize Consumer Support in Employee Training Programs - Retail and foodservice companies should emphasize consumer support and waste prevention education throughout staff training, incentivizing engagement on proper food storage, handling, and preparation protocols.
- Collaborative Education - Retail and foodservice companies should collaborate pre-competitively to educate and engage with consumers to drive a culture shift towards higher value placed on food, disincentivizing waste, and improving consumer food management skills.
- Create Opportunities for Change - Public organizations, such as governments, schools, and other community programs, should create opportunities to introduce food storage, management, and waste prevention lessons in order to stimulate behavior change through education.
- Engaging More Players as a Hub - Food businesses should connect with other industry players to act as a "hub" and offer more services to customers, such as compost disposal, interactive trainings on full ingredient utilization, and proper food storage techniques.
- Online Shopping Assistance - Online shopping features that provide real-time assistance with meal planning, food storage, and other positive behaviors are needed to encourage better in-home food management.
- In-Store Assistance - Evolutions within the in-store shopping experience are needed to disincentivize over-purchasing and provide customer support for improved in-home food management.
- Kitchen Tech and Internet of Things (IoT) - Kitchen technology is needed to improve inventory management and full product utilization in home, including smaller, smarter refrigerators and IoT devices that can help people manage and use all of their food before it spoils.
Here's How You Can Reduce Food Waste
Your Source for Data and Solutions:
ReFED's Insights Engine
The Insights Engine is an online hub for data and insights about food waste built from more than 50 public and proprietary datasets, plus estimates and information from academic studies, industry papers, case studies, and expert interviews; a detailed financial analysis of more than 40 food waste reduction solutions; a directory of organizations ready to partner on food waste reduction initiatives; and more. With more granular data, more extensive analyses, more customized views, and the most up-to-date information, the Insights Engine can provide anyone interested in food waste reduction with the information they need to take meaningful action.
ReFED offers a range of solutions for organizations to advance their own food waste initiatives. Our interactive tools, reports and strategic solutions can help your team get started.