• 88% of shoppers are concerned about food waste, but only 43% have changed their behaviour.
  • Shoppers blame themselves most for food waste.
  • Awareness of carrier bag charges are high & could prompt more proactive approach to
  • Greater use of insight into shopper behaviour could help address the problem.

UK shoppers have expressed a widespread concern about the environment and are likely to be receptive to initiatives that positively contribute to the environment though this concern does not always translate into action. That’s just one of the findings from the Bridgethorne Shopper Index, a quarterly survey of shopper opinions from shopper and category management specialists Bridgethorne, that gauges satisfaction, loyalty and future propensity to purchase.

The Index shows that women are significantly more likely to be concerned about the environment than men (90.8% vs. 75.4%), and those with families more concerned than those at other life-stages (91.7%).

Bridgethorne says that greater use of insight about shopper behaviour and, for example, what food is most commonly wasted could be used to mitigate the problem by addressing use by dates and pack sizes among other factors.

Food Waste

This contrast between belief and behaviour is most marked with food waste, which is the second most important environmental concern for shoppers (88.4%), just behind reducing personal emissions (89.6%) and just ahead of renewable energy (83.2%). However, only 43% of those surveyed declared that they had changed their behaviour.

Reducing Food Waste was either the first or second most important issue for all demographic groups. It was the most important issue for the 35-55 Age Group, and those living in the South. The younger age group – 18-34 – appear to be least concerned, which presents a challenge to retailers and manufacturers to educate early to ensure habits are formed for later life.

Unsurprisingly it is the short shelf life and perishable goods – fresh chilled foods (36.9%), especially fresh fruit (26.8%) and vegetables (25.7%) – that are the main sources of food waste. Tins and Jars account for 10.2% of food waste, presumably after being opened and not completely used up. Pack sizes may also have a role to play here.

Shoppers are definitely driven by Best Before/Use By Dates when it comes to food waste, especially with meat and fish, presumably driven by health concerns. Fruit and vegetables are most likely to be “forgotten” about.

“Despite 88% of all shoppers declaring that food waste is an important issue for them, very few admit to wasting too much food,” explains John Nevens, Joint Managing Director, Bridgethorne.

“Most state that very little of their food gets thrown away. This may indicate that recent campaigns around reducing food waste in parallel with a sustained economic downturn has led to a shift in household behaviour on a matter that is clearly important to shoppers. However, if we seriously want to reduce food waste, addressing shelf-lives and the labelling of meat, fish and fruit seem likely to make most difference, though the real issue may be that we simply buy more than we need.”

Carrier Bags

Shoppers appear to have built the habit of preparing for Food Shopping with all Demographic Groups claiming to bring bags from home significantly more than on non-food occasions. This has been achieved without the need to place a levy on the bags.

However, general awareness of the 5p levy is high, which is already in place in Wales and Scotland and imminent in England, especially in the latter. Most Shoppers claim to be re-using or re-cycling most of their carriers bags already. About half of all shoppers are aware of the charges in Scotland and/or Wales, and not just those in those two countries. However Three Quarters of shoppers claim to be aware of the up-coming charge in England, which may indicate acceptance and a smooth transition to the introduction of the levy. Those in the 18-34 age group are most likely to be unaware. 

“The Index shows that women rather than men (36% to 28%) and the older age group, the over 55s & retired (52%), are most likely to take a bag from home when they go food shopping,” adds Nevens. “However, whilst the younger age groups require more convincing to recycle, 60% of them still claim to re-use or re-cycle all or most of their bags.”

Shoppers claim, however, that on average 65% of their food shopping trips are packed using bags they have brought with them. Empty Nesters claim the highest levels of preparation, with on average 80% of food shopping occasions using their own bag, closely followed by Retired Shoppers at 78%. There is no significant difference between the levels claimed by Men & Women but people living in the North appear more likely to take a bag from home than Shoppers in the South (on average 69% vs. 57%).

Most shoppers believe they will change their behaviour further with regard to carrier bags. Those already re-using or recycling most (The over 55s & Retireds) are mostly likely to say they won’t change as they believe they already do enough. The 18-35s are more likely to say they will prepare for specific trips rather than carry bags with them at all times.

Other findings:

  • Empty Nesters claim to be the best at re-using bags for food shopping – they have the biggest gap between their food and non-food recycling.
  • In non-food shopping occasions, shoppers in the North again claim to take a bag from home more often than the shoppers in the South.
  • On these occasions it is the over 55s and Retired that appear most prepared (65% of the time and 67% vs. average of 51% for Non-Food Shopping Occasions).

“It is fair to say that UK shoppers have very strong views on the environment,” adds Nevens.

“This will likely make them receptive to initiatives that, at the very least, will positively impact the environment. However, it is less clear where the responsibility lies for food waste and recycling. The reality, though, is that shoppers, consumers, manufacturers and suppliers all need to play their part in addressing these issues together.”