Convenience is a major consideration for FMCG marketers, with many consumers seeking easier and quicker ways to enjoy food.
But has the convenience trend affected the way consumers think about food waste? Christina O’Sullivan from food waste charity Feedback Global believes the devaluation of food is the biggest contributor to throwaway attitudes among young people.
“Our supermarkets and large food corporations have created this false illusion of abundance in that, when you go to the supermarket, there are rows and rows of fresh foods. The reality is that this has a huge impact on the environment as we stop seeing the value in food due to having so much of it on the shelves. Supermarkets treat food as if it is a decoration.”
The rise in ultra-convenient offerings, such as meal kits, is indicative of the time restraints placed on working consumers. When you add the perception that millennials lack the money to buy fresh ingredients, or the skills to cook them, it’s clear to see why convenience has taken off like it has.
“Time is a big issue that we need to address,” Christina said. “Especially with the rise of zero-hour contracts, it’s really hard to plan as to when you’re going to have time to make a meal. Convenience foods also feed into this idea of grabbing and going, which lessens the value of food.”
O’Sullivan said this is something that supermarkets want to push because it makes business sense.
“Manufacturers and supermarkets will make more money from convenience foods so they will push for them to be sold more than fresh foods. For example, if you buy a fresh butternut squash from the farmers’ market, it will cost considerably less than the spiralised, pre-packaged butternut squash on supermarket shelves.
“It doesn’t take much work for manufacturers to create these products and mark up the price on the shelves. Convenience is costing millennial consumers much more than they realise.”
The relaxed attitudes towards food waste can also be attributed to a lack of cooking skills, which O’Sullivan said could be combated with the use of social media in order to ‘educate and advise people’.
“We need to look at why millennials are buying convenience foods,” she continued. “I think people are lacking in the skills to make and build recipes – and some millennials do not know how to act with leftovers. If you do not know how to properly turn leftovers into something new, then you’re more likely to waste them.
“To a certain extent, the older generations are better in terms of using what ingredients they have and being more creative with leftovers.”
O’Sullivan believes Gen Y lacks the skills or time to be an effective force on food waste.
“There are a lot of young bloggers out there with great advice on how to reduce food waste by getting creative with leftovers,” she continued. “There is a lot to be learned from our peers, so social media can be used for that benefit.”
A movement of change has been sparked in how Generation Y approaches food choices, due to rising awareness of environmental issues. This has also affected which products are put on offer in supermarkets.
In general, fewer people in Western economies are opting to eat meat; according to Kantar Worldpanel, 29% of evening meals in the UK alone are meat-free. Meat-free substitutes are also growing by £30 million each year.
“Veganism and approaches like that are examples of this,” O’Sullivan said. “There is a bigger awareness and that is really powerful — older generations can learn from youth environmental activism.
“When you talk to people about what they could do to help the environment, many people say driving less or taking shorter showers. All this is great, but the biggest action that many millennials have opted to take – to eat less meat – is actually far more impactful for the environment.”
In fact, Christina said that Generation Y is not completely to blame for our food waste issues, but instead, we should all seek to alter the system that is currently in place.
“Food waste is a symptom of a dysfunctional food system, so I think that it is less important to focus on how we can get young people to waste less food, but rather efforts must be made to create a food system that nourishes the planet instead of destroying it.
“This involves looking at how much surplus food exists across the supply chain. A lot of food is wasted on farms in the UK. Looking at things like how we produce meat is also important, as this practice is inherently wasteful due to the use of crops such as soy in animal feed which is an inefficient way of producing food.”
In order to move forward and combat the problem for the future, O’Sullivan advocates educating young people in two ways: social media, and in utilising community connections to motivate one another.
“One part is in young people’s day-to-day lives; for example, the use of social media can help for ideas with leftovers and we can all make an effort to reduce our environmental impact through the food we eat.
“It’s a fantastic idea to join local groups to change the food system. We run a Gleaning Network that brings volunteers to farms to harvest fresh fruit and vegetables that would have otherwise been wasted. This is supported by Our Bright Future, an ambitious and innovative partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts which brings together the youth and environmental sectors.”
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