Consumers want to help – but labelling is key

Preventing food waste is an area where consumers feel they can make a positive difference. When asked which global issues they believed they could have an impact on as individuals, 47% chose “preventing food waste” followed by 40% for “single use plastic” and 37% for “dealing with packaging waste” – also areas where consumers feel they can do something tangible, such as cutting down on the use of plastic and recycling.

However, there is a significant “say/do” gap when it comes to how consumers actually behave when it comes to food waste – and labelling is seen as a culprit here. In our survey, 39% of global consumers say they throw away food because the “best before” date has passed, even if it doesn’t smell or look bad. 30% would “never” consider consuming a product after its expiry date, and a further 36% would only do so for certain products.

Attitudes to labels vary by geography. Consumers in developed countries generally show a more flexible attitude to expiry dates and are more likely to make a judgment based on smell or taste, perhaps reflecting their greater confidence in the safety of the products they buy. For example, Nigerian consumers are the most likely to depend on the expiry date to indicate whether food is safe to consume (63%). There are differences by age, too, with younger consumers more likely to rely on the expiry date.

Worldwide, there is a lack of understanding around expiry dates and what they mean (such as “best before” versus “use by”). According to our social media research, in the USA there are ongoing conversations about the use of food labels contributing to unnecessary food waste, due to people not being clear about when food is still safe to consume.

There is action under way to address this. For example, as part of its action plan for the Circular Economy, the EU aims to reduce food waste by 30% and 50% in 2025 and 2030, respectively. Making expiry date labels less confusing is a key part of this, along with making food donations easier. Regulations to ensure these targets are met will soon follow. The Consumer Goods Forum is also focusing on clarifying information on food labels to avoid consumer confusion, along with setting standards for measuring food waste.

Meanwhile, there are also innovation opportunities around intelligent expiry labels that can tell consumers whether or not a product is still safe to consume.

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