A recent article in Waste Dive on the shifts emerging in food and packaging waste aligned with some thoughts we were having: In the unprecedented landscape of a global pandemic, how is the narrative around waste changing?
We have seen consumers and brands push back on food and packaging waste even as they clamor for convenience, and we were curious if their mindsets and behaviors were changing as is the landscape for all of us.
In 3 hours, we scraped publicly available social media sources from March 13 to April 3 to gain insight into consumer sentiments about their pain points, frustrations, and workarounds surrounding food, convenience, and waste during this global pandemic. Here’s what we learned:
Changing Buying Behavior
Amidst uncertainty and major lifestyle adjustments, consumers are shifting their grocery and food buying habits. Those who often ate meals on the go, find themselves at home and with usually scant pantries and freezers now packed. Convenience is being viewed with a new perspective. Rather than being “easy to take with me and consume during my busy day,” it can now mean, “readily available in my home where I am spending all of my time and which minimizes outings to the grocery store.” Convenient also translates to “delivered to my door,” and for some, this is a completely new experience which they may consider carrying forward post-pandemic.
- Never considered how trends in convenience culture and eating/carrying out affects how much food people keep at home which helps explain the run on grocery stores. – Twitter
- This huge dry goods store is 10 mins from me but I rarely go. Now they are offering porch drop off and I placed a big order. A few yrs ago I would have never imagined food delivery in the country, gotta love the convenience. – Twitter
- For someone who enjoys grocery shopping and visits one up to five times/week to get fresh stuff, prepping for a potential quarantine was a challenge. I have never had so many items in my freezer – some healthy but many items I never ever buy. Only a few fresh items to be safe. – Twitter
- Over the past couple weeks, we’ve all been stocking up on food and essentials so we don’t have to leave our houses very often. – Blog
Waste No Food
With larger amounts of food in their homes, consumers are making efforts to use things in new ways and not be wasteful. And with long term economic concerns, some have an eye on saving money by wasting neither food nor ingredients. Even with differing motivations behind their efforts, consumers share a goal of maximizing the value of their food, time, and money. Some justify generating more trash from packaging because they are achieving goals of minimizing food waste. And, parents are using the situation to educate their children and establish new paradigms around waste in their households.
- All of a sudden I wince at the thought of tossing anything into the Basket of Oblivion. If I can save it, and weave it into a different dish, I will do so. – Blog
- As usual I find myself doing the opposite to the rest of the world! My food waste has gone down. I’m deliberately eating the oldest items from the back of my cupboards & only buying limited fresh food. – Twitter
- Recommended activity these days: watching spring onions regrow in a cup of water in the windowsill. Apparently you can harvest the bases 2-3 times. Saves money, food waste, and trips out, and it’s reassuring to watch fresh green life growing. Hang in there friends. – Twitter
- I have made a cake because I had ingredients that needed using up (no food waste in this house any more!) And because CAKE 😊 – Twitter
- I’m a drill sergeant with my kids now. “Only take a little! You can always go back for more! We’re NOT WASTING FOOD ANYMORE” – Twitter
- I got 2 kgs total of blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries from work since we shut down due to COVID-19. I couldn’t let them go to waste! I made 17 half pint jars of jam. – Reddit
- One thing I’ve learnt during this pandemic is making the apt use of all the groceries I get. My food waste has gone down from 10% to 0 and I’ve never been more proud. – Twitter
- The anxiety of this pandemic has me operating out of scarcity. I’m using that energy to repurpose ingredients that would have been waste into different meals. Trying to operate from abundance (a privilege) is uncomfortable AND it’s pushing my resourcefulness. I’m proud of myself. – Twitter
- I am also utilizing what I have on hand, stretching things, reinventing dishes. Etc. Grateful to have learned from my grandparents Depression era thriftiness. Cooking is also therapeutic. – Twitter
The Health Factor
Very recently, consumers were pushing back against the waste of food and food packaging and seeking to strike a balance between minimizing waste while also using convenient solutions. A new factor has entered this equation: health. With the health and safety of their families, service and health care providers, and themselves top of mind, some consumers are willing to compromise previous values around the environment in order to protect themselves and others.
- I use my own coffee cup and use my own bags for groceries – we wash them frequently. There are many who do not wash em, however and the grocery clerks are on the front line. I am all in with plastic or paper. Actually the virtue-signaling war against single-use plastic seems way over done! Stay safe and give our frontline servers all the breaks we can! – Article Comment
- I’ve hired antibacterial wipes which I never used before because I thought they were so wasteful, but now my priority is sanitizing vs. saving the environment (sorry!) – Slack
- I must reuse my dirty plastic bags that touch the subway/bus floor. PLEASE allow NYC supermarkets to give me free clean plasti bags again! It will save lives! – Twitter
Brands Solving for Minimizing Waste While Meeting Needs During Pandemic
- Elmhurst 1925 makes plant-based milk and their lineup was already popular with consumers seeking plant-based alternatives to their daily favorites. Although found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, their oat milk is shelf-stable and is winning with consumers across categories as they stock up on staples.
- Preserve is a certified B Corporation that produces 100% recycled household products. As restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery to service customers, Preserve’s relevance is spot on – they upcycle plastic take-out containers into tableware. They also make products for the food services industry.
- Treehouse Milk is an Atlanta-based producer of an alternative milk beverage made from Georgia pecans. Shipping nationwide, they take back, sanitize, and re-use jars and even boast that consumers may come across a mature jar with some “missing ink and extra character.” They partner with CompostNow to compost the remnants left from the milk-making process. Other startups turn their food by-products into more food. This should resonate with consumers who are seeking to use every morsel of the food in their pantries and refrigerators.
What other brands have you seen strive to minimize waste while meeting current needs?