The nature, content, and format of on-pack guidance is thought to play a role in food waste generation, and therefore potentially in food waste prevention. The main objective of this study was to examine the effects on consumers of different contents and formats of guidance on food and drink packaging, using large-scale experiments.
Labels and storage guidance are used primarily to ensure food safety, but they can also prompt behaviours that cause food waste or help prevent it. For example, storing fresh produce in the fridge (with some exceptions) extends its life, providing more opportunity for it to be eaten rather than wasted, while storing bread in the fridge damages its quality, making it more likely to be thrown away. These facts are not widely understood by consumers, and because there are exceptions to the general rules (for example bananas and potatoes are fresh produce that should not be stored in the fridge) it can be very confusing to know what to do for the best.
The overarching research question was whether consumer behaviour can be influenced in a positive way using on-pack guidance, resulting in more desirable behaviours from a food waste perspective. The general expectation was that a relationship would be found between the label shown to participants and (i) likely behaviour; and (ii) perceived helpfulness in making decisions. The analysis of the data led to the following recommendations and suggested further research.
To capitalise on the potential for on-pack labelling to help reduce food waste, manufacturers and retailers should consider removing Use By dates for products where they are not required, removing or codifying Display Until dates since these can cause consumer confusion, replacing ‘freeze on day of purchase’ with ‘freeze by [date]’ and including guidance on where and how to store fresh produce.
The research indicated that an instructional messaging style was preferred to a guidance style. Further research on a wider range of products and a wider range of guidance styles is required to confirm this finding applies more widely than just the products tested.
Because the research was unable to draw firm conclusions about more and less effective label formats, a programme of real-world testing of different approaches and designs would be beneficial.
The nature of the research meant that only a small number of products could be tested; for example, only pre-packaged carrots were tested in relation to storing in the original packaging. To generalise more conclusively about behaviours and the likely impact of optimised on-pack labelling, more products and more formats should be tested. This is particularly important for Use By dates where the products tested were some of the least risky ones.
Leach, B., O’Brien, R., 2019: The effects of on-pack storage and consumption guidance on consumer food waste behaviours. REFRESH Deliverable 1.6