Effect of demographic factors on consumer food waste (en-US)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Authors: Barbara Bódi, Gyula Kasza


Consumer food waste is a social and economic problem affecting our country as well, and in alleviating this problem, raising awareness plays a key role. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that for risk-free spreading of good practices, proper professional basis in food chain safety are needed. Therefore, the National Food Chain Safety Office is directly involved in this issue, justifying direct data collection by us in this area. As the first element of the professional program, a consumer survey of nationwide representativity was performed by conducting personal interviews of 1006 people. Main demographic factors with significant effect on food waste were identified using crosstab analysis. Based on the results, male consumers, people in their thirties and higher income households can be considered priority target groups of prevention campaigns. By analyzing available data further, we wish to identify the habits and attitudes of the above-mentioned potential target groups, the results of which can be used effectively in awareness raising campaigns planned for the near future, together with other professional and non-governmental organizations participating in the management of the problem.


2. Introduction

According to the 2011 estimate of the Food and Agriculture Organization, a significant proportion – approximately one third – of the the food produced in the global food supply chain ends up as waste [1]. This presents significant sustainability issues even today and, according to expert forecasts up to 2030, could result in a critical situation [2]. Based on literature data, the problem occurs to a different extent on different levels of the food chain, depending on the economic development of the individual country: while losses in agriculture – due to storage and distribution infrastructure deficiencies – dominate in the developing world, in countries with more advanced economies it is typically consumer food waste that presents a problem [3]. According to the most extreme estimate currently published, household waste accounts for roughly 42% of losses in the entire food chain in European Union member states [5]. For this reason, development of programs to prevent waste on the consumption level – due to its negative environmental and economic impacts – is a key policy issue these days. From 2010 onwards, there has been an increased scientific interest in research regarding background variables (socio-demographic, attitude and behavioral factors) that can potentially influence consumer food waste, however, compared to other fields of science, the number of relevant publications is still considered low.


In addition to recognizing the problem, these research results contribute to increasing the effectiveness of prevention programs and, indirectly, to reducing food waste [6]. In many cases, the available scientific literature is not uniform when considering the extent of the effect of different demographic parameters on the amount of food waste or, in certain cases, not even about the sign of the effect. At the same time, unanimous conclusions were formulated by the studies published so far in terms of the fact that the age distribution of households exerts a significant effect on the extent of food waste: wasteful behavior is much more characteristic of the younger population than it is of representatives of the older generation [7], [8], [9], [10]. Researchers’ opinion regarding the effect of household size is also consistent: households with more people produce more waste overall, however, when considering per capita amounts, one-person households present the worst image [15], [16], [17], [18].


The presence of a small child has a decisive importance in the composition of households. According to research data, the risk of wasting food is increased by the hectic consumption habits and often changing preferences of children, and also by the constant desire by the parents to meet these demands [10], [11]. It is interesting that, at the same time, it is emphasized by other studies that the composition of the household is irrelevant in this respect, rather the gender of the person responsible for purchases is considered a determining factor, however,  conclusions are not uniform in this case either: women responsible for purchases are considered more wasteful by certain studies because of their desire to care – somtimes too much – about their families, while the lack of attention by men was identified as a waste increasing factor by other researchers [12, 13, 14]. Researchers are also divided on the effect of the income of the households: some experts consider the wasteful behavior of more affluent consumers evident [19], [20], however, there have been research results published where such a relationship could not be demonstrated, and the „wealth equals waste” train of thought was classified as a false stereotype [21], [22], [23]. As a summary of the above, it can be stated that experts’ opinions are quite divided on demographic factors that influence potential food waste. This can be explained by differences in the methods of analysis, but it can be assumed at the same time that differences at the national level are of decisive importance as well. Consequently, surveys performed at the domestic level play an unquestionable role in identifying target groups primarily responsible for waste, and also in the development of effective prevention programs based on this.

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