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Supermarkets 'unlikely to drive consumer change' on food waste

New research suggests that the scale of behaviour change needed to reduce food waste is more likely to require national drives rather than initiatives from individual retail companies.

Academics at the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds University evaluated three types of media campaign – social media (Facebook), an e-newsletter and a print/digital magazine – conducted by a large unnamed UK supermarket to encourage shoppers to reduce their food waste.

The researchers report a significant reduction in the quantity of food wasted by participants five months after both the e-newsletter and Facebook initiatives finished, compared with the amount of food wasted before either initiative.

For magazine readers, there was a small but insignificant fall in food wasted five months after the campaign compared with before it. This, say the researchers, suggests that the magazine did not significantly change consumer behaviour.

But consumers who had not seen any of the campaigns also significantly cut the amount of food they wasted at the end of the five-month period.

The researchers suggested this might be because consumers were subliminally influenced by wider marketing promotions. They have collected more data and are researching this idea further.

They say: “Our study illustrates both the potential and the limitations of large retailers’ attempts to bring about incremental change in the behaviour of their mainstream customers.

“Even large retailers are limited in their reach and are only one of a wide range of actors that have the potential to shape their customers’ behaviour. In addition, companies are unlikely to go into areas that will reduce profitability or competiveness such as reducing consumption.

“For more significant change, society needs appropriate infrastructure and legal changes to help leading companies to enhance their efforts to manage sustainable behaviours.”

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