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Meet the Influencers Hot About Food Waste and Our Throw-Away Culture

Food waste and packaging is a concern to a growing and more vocal core of consumers who are increasingly worried about the food industry’s impact on the environment, according to new research from The Center for Food Integrity (CFI). The study reveals that those concerned about food waste and packaging fit the profile of an environmentally conscious eater who is more likely to campaign against what they see as a throw-away culture and push for change via new regulations and innovation.

They are highly progressive consumers who strive to live their lives in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. When it comes to food purchases in particular, two primary concerns come to mind:

  • Too much packaging comes with food
  • Too much food goes to waste

It’s Not the Millennials

While it’s often assumed millennials drive conversations about sustainability – that’s not the case here. These consumers, typically white women evenly distributed between the ages of 24-54, want to be role models for sustainability.

They believe today’s food products need to be modernized, especially sourcing, manufacturing and distribution, according to CFI’s Illuminate, a research tool that can analyze millions of interactions online in real time.

In addition, they think scientific innovation can help guide better approaches to food production and overall health, making the world a better place. This presents an opportunity for food companies. In a society that is skeptical of technology in food production, food packaging may present an open door.

Campaigning for causes is important to them. They feel it’s their responsibility to support or actively advocate for societal reform and will vote with their pocketbooks.

These consumers choose food items with minimal packaging and potential for waste because it makes them feel as if they are putting the environment – and not themselves – first.

Don’t Dismiss the Movement

Relatively speaking, the number of those engaged on the topic is small, according to the research.

Currently, there is a core market of 27-million consumers actively engaged in conversations about food packaging and food waste – a relatively small segment considering an overall addressable market of nearly 190 million. The number is expected to increase to 29 million in the next two years. But, with the pace of changing consumer attitudes and the increase in purpose-driven purchasing, it would be foolish to dismiss this issue as niche.

There’s no question the topic is gaining steam and the food industry is taking notice, resulting in efforts that range from grocery stores selling misshapen fruits and vegetables – the misfits that once were tossed – to grocery giant Walmart announcing a new initiative to work with its private labels to create 100 percent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.

Zero-waste stores are popping up in urban areas where shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags and containers to not only purchase certain foods in bulk, but household cleaners, cosmetics and toiletries.  As one of the store owners said, consumers gravitate toward the concept of zero waste “because it’s something they can take control of.”

And just recently, Trader Joe’s announced that, in response to a customer petition, it will work to eliminate more than 1 million pounds of plastics from its stores.

The efforts are notable, but the key is communicating those steps to key audiences so they understand that progress is being made.

As the topic continues to gain momentum, it’s important for food companies to stay engaged with the environmentally conscious eater. Find ways to show tangible advancement toward sustainability goals. Demonstrate that you share consumers values.

If you do so effectively, you may be surprised by the bridges you build.

Illuminate™ Digital Cultural Insights is an evolution of consumer research that can empower a new world of consumer engagement that is more precise, effective and affordable than traditional campaigns. The ability to identify the consumer influencers driving a topic or trend and then producing content we know will align with their values, beliefs and attitudes is a powerful capability.

CFI members receive in-depth Illuminate reports each month that include detailed research results on important topics and guidance on how to best apply the findings. We also offer customized research reports. Stay tuned for our next topic – chemicals in food.

If you’re interested in learning more about Illuminate, I’d be happy to connect.

Terry Fleck
Executive Director, CFI