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Can supermarkets encourage customers to cut food waste through social media? Analysis of UK campaign shows mixed results

March 9, 2017

Can supermarkets encourage customers to cut food waste through social media? Analysis of UK campaign shows mixed results

Vast quantities of food are wasted on a global scale each year. Throwing away food also wastes the resources used to produce it and pushes up food prices. In addition, this loss harms the environment — deforestation, for example, has been partly linked with creating agricultural land for growing food that is subsequently wasted. Furthermore, food that is disposed of in landfill emits methane and carbon dioxide. Reducing food waste is, therefore, a crucial part of moving towards a sustainable society. The EU, for example, is committed to reducing food waste as part of its drive towards a circular economy.

Behaviour change research has found that face-to-face influence, where people learn from one another — for instance, showing your neighbours how to compost, can be very powerful. Some researchers have suggested that social media could encourage behaviour change in the same way as face-to-face contact, potentially influencing large numbers of people in a cost-effective manner.

This study explored whether social media could be used to help consumers at a large UK retailer reduce their food waste. The researchers worked closely with the store’s organisation to design three one-off interventions with messages to reduce food waste, using the store’s communication channels.

For the first intervention, a feature article containing expert tips for reducing the most commonly wasted food at home was published in one issue of the store’s magazine. Every month, the magazine is circulated to 1.9 million readers and is available in-store or online. The article included advice on how to store food and use up leftovers in appetising ways.

For the second intervention, two feature articles were published in the store’s e-newsletter, which is distributed to 1.4 million customers. One feature discussed household food waste and how to use leftovers. There was also a link to a social media campaign, which encouraged customers to share ideas for reducing food waste. The second feature advised consumers on how to store food and keep it fresh.

The third intervention posted a campaign on leftovers on the store's Facebook page. Customers were encouraged to interact by sending in their favourite recipes using leftover food and also to go to a separate website which gives advice on how to reduce food waste.

Read more at : "Science for Environment Policy": European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.

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