Are you a food rescuer?
Anouk Sluijter, a recent graduate of Hotelschool The Hague shares an inspiring story about her bachelor thesis project about turning food waste to "rescued foods".
Did you know that roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year?! This equals 1.3 billion tons per year, worth around 1 trillion USD. In the meantime, around 870 million people are starving each day (United Nations Environment Programme, 2015).
Food waste is one of the biggest problems the world of today faces. Next to being an ethical problem, food waste also comes with numerous negative environmental and economic impacts. In fact, the direct economic consequences of food waste are approximately 750 billion USD each year (FAO, 2015).
Even more disturbing is that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. If that is not enough, the amount of water used to produce food that gets lost or wasted is equal to three times the volume of Lake Geneva!
Commercialising food waste
Food waste happens at all levels of the supply chain, but in developed and industrialised countries, the consumer stage is the largest contributor. Thus, consumers can play a large role in decreasing food waste.
Looking at the hospitality industry, the carbon footprint of dining out is large and growing. Therefore, hospitality related companies also need to think of ways and practices to decrease food waste, thereby contributing to a more sustainable environment. We see many interesting business models developing to tackle and actually commercialise food waste as a way to reduce it:
In-Stock collects food products from Albert Heijn supermarkets that would otherwise be wasted and creates yummy dishes (and even "pieper" and "bammetjes" beers!) out of them.
ResQ-Club is an app that you can use to order surplus restaurant dishes at one of the participating restaurants.
De Verspillingsfabriek also makes an effort to reduce food waste. They collect fruits and vegetables from farmers, distributors, and wholesalers that cannot be sold in retail and make soups. The soups are called "Barstensvol" and are sold in retail, the foodservice market, and healthcare institutions.
Kromkommer is a social enterprise within the Netherlands with a similar mission. They emphasise that taste, health and safety are indicators of the quality of fruits and vegetables; perfect looks are NOT. According to them, consumers and retailers need to get rid of their need for perfection in foods and the existing European quality requirements should be adjusted.
Not there yet
So, looking at these initiatives it seems that people are finally waking up, right? All are great examples of commercial business models positively contributing to decreasing food waste. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
Even though the majority of people say they find it important to contribute to a sustainable environment and to decrease food waste, their intentions are not translated into actions. Actually, the more I dive into this research I find that there is a large behavioural gap between consumer intention and their actual behaviour.
Bridging the behavioural gap
Research is needed to understand how to bridge this behavioural gap. Communication can be a helpful mechanism to do so. Therefore, at Hotelschool The Hague Research Centre, in a project led by Anna de Visser-Amundson, we are currently investigating how to best trigger consumers to make more sustainable choices with regards to food waste and "rescued foods".
To clarify, rescued foods are food products made for human consumption from foods that would otherwise be thrown away due to approaching "sell-by" dates, over-production or cosmetic reasons.
Anna de Visser-Amundson has set up different food waste and rescued food-related research projects. I joined her on one of the projects, particularly focusing on the perception of the proximity of rescued foods:
- Does it make a difference in consumer choice whether or not the rescued food product resembles the original state of the food product?
- Is the barrier for consumers to choose rescued foods lower once the food is not recognisable as rescued anymore e.g. pureed instead of chunky?
- Are people more risk-averse when a rescued food still resembles its original state?
These are all mechanisms that might help or hinder consumers’ choice for this type of food. As part of the food waste-related research projects, we also raise awareness about food waste at Hotelschool The Hague (HTH) and the larger HTH community. We do this by sharing both information and the products that we "harvest" on "food rescue missions".
To the rescue!
On our "food rescue missions", we go to various growers and help them with their surplus vegetables. Our Food & Beverage (F&B) lecturer, Joost de Vos, set this up earlier this year and together with him and other F&B instructors we have rescued over 8000 kilos of vegetables!
By continuing our rescue actions and our research projects on how to best trigger consumers to choose rescued food alternatives, we aim to contribute to bridging the behavioural gap, thereby seeing more intentions translated into actions. Will you be joining us on this journey?
Visit one of the Hotelschool The Hague Open Days and find out more about how you can join them on such meaningful journeys!