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Education, education | Analysis – Fresher for Longer

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Education, education | Analysis – Fresher for Longer

June 16
09:55 2013

A major study into food waste has revealed some surprising attitudes to packaging. So a new drive is aiming to dispel myths and educate how best to keep food. Josh Brooks reports.

When you, your family and your friends get home from the supermarket, what do you do with the food you’ve bought? According to research released last month, there’s a more than a 50% chance that you take it out of the packaging. And only one in five of us realises that packaging can extend the life of the product that it contains. All this is despite the fact that 60% of household food waste – which, in total, is estimated to be worth around £6.7bn every year – arises because food goes off before it is eaten.

The study – Consumer attitudes to Food Waste and Food Packaging – highlights the ongoing disconnect between the reality of what packaging does to protect food and public perceptions of it. Conducted on behalf of an unprecedented cross-industry partnership that included Wrap, packaging groups, retailers and others, the study discovered that 50% of the British public believe packaging is “bad for the environment” and that slightly more, 52%, believe that packaging “uses too much material”. And more than half unpack food when they get it home, believing that it is better preserved outside its packaging.

Even given historic anti-packaging campaigns in the national media and elsewhere in recent times, the figures are surprising and, for those in the industry who spend their lives working to make packaging protect and preserve food for as long as possible, a little depressing.

But help is at hand. To coincide with the publication of the study last month, a major consumer-facing campaign, ‘Fresher for Longer’, was unveiled. Launched at Marks & Spencer’s store in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the campaign aims to reverse those attitudes and educate the public of the role the packaging plays in reducing food waste.

Food wheels

At the launch, some 30,000 ‘food advice wheels’ were made available explaining how keeping products such as fruit, cheese and potatoes in their packaging at home would keep them edible for longer. On day one of the campaign – 5 March – radio and national press covered the launch. Add in social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, and an estimated 3m people were touched by some element of the campaign on the first day.

To reach one in 20 of the UK population on day one of what is, effectively, a pro-packaging campaign is undoubtedly impressive. But Fresher for Longer gives cause for optimism on a number of other fronts.

From an industry perspective, it is the first time in recent history that such a broad church of stakeholders in the packaging supply chain have worked together on such a high-profile project. Alongside Wrap – so often the object of accusations from the packaging supply chain of an anti-packaging stance – the project is being backed by the Packaging Federation, Incpen, the Food and Drink Federation, the British Retail Consortium and the Kent Waste Partnership, representing local councils.

Dick Searle, chief executive of the Packaging Federation, describes the launch as a “fantastic example of working together across the supply chain”. “It creates a model for the way forward,” he says. “It’s a huge affirmation of all of the positives of packaging. We need to change the dynamic of people’s perceptions and talk up what it does. The whole rhetoric of people apologising for packaging has got to die because that rhetoric is simply wrong.”

From a packaging perspective, campaign materials sing the praises of a number of specific packaging technologies. The campaign’s website proclaims how resealable packs prevent cheese drying out, how modified atmosphere packs keep produce fresh, how packs with subdivisions allow consumers to use some of the product now and some later, and so on.

Postcards created for the campaign reinforce the message, with slogans explaining that apples should ‘keep their pack on’ and pears should hold onto theirs ‘till lunch do us part’, demonstrating that packaging not only keeps food fresher for longer, but also protects it in the home. Animations on YouTube that spoof classic TV show Blind Date – restyled as ‘Best Before Date’ and featuring food types being matched up with packaging types – and a series of short ‘ditties’ by the comedian and poet Kate Fox make up the rest of the campaign (see box).

Another success of the campaign was to gain some supportive comments on packaging in Parliament. In response to a question from Tory MP Mark Pawsey, who is regarded as Westminster’s packaging champion, Andrew Lansley, the leader of the House of Commons, said that the campaign would do “a great deal of good in reducing food waste”.

Lansley told MPs: “Throwing away food not used in time is costing consumers £6.7bn a year – £270 for the average household. Only about one in seven consumers realises that packaging can play an important role in protecting food in our homes.”

With retailers, MPs and all parts of the packaging supply chain on board to finally promote packaging, are we seeing the dawning of a new era of positive attitudes towards the industry’s contribution to society? Perhaps. The question remains, of course, how much traction the campaign will gain among consumers and how much support it will now garner elsewhere in the supply chain. Last month’s launch is a big step to better educating the public on packaging– but it is a step on what could still be a long journey.

Consumers and food waste: findings

Unpacking strategies

Most consumers believe that keeping products in packaging at home leads them to spoil more quickly; so they adopt what the report terms “unpacking strategies” that are likely to lead to a shorter lifespan for the products.

Too much material?

52% of those surveyed said that packaging ‘uses too much material’ and 50% said it is ‘bad for the environment’; just 22% said that it ‘extends the shelf life of the product’.

‘Misplaced confidence’

The report highlights what it calls “misplaced confidence” among consumers around how best to store food, and argues that the information on labels and how those labels are used by consumers in the home could be “more effective”. Some 90% of consumers say they are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ confident that they store their food in the best way to keep it fresh, even though two-thirds unpack it.

Retailer progress

Attitudes to packaging shift according to the context and the mind-set that consumers are in. When prompted by researchers, consumers’ attitudes to packaging are negative in the context of the environment, with 81% believing that it is a major environmental problem and 57% thinking it is wasteful and unnecessary. Concern about packaging reduces in response to more information, while concern about food waste increases in response to more information.

All about context

Consumers don’t have a fixed opinion as to whether food waste or packaging is a bigger problem; 44% believe that food waste is the bigger problem, while 50% believe it is packaging. Older consumers and those considering themselves to have a very eco-friendly disposition are more likely to consider packaging as a problem.

Sources: Consumer attitudes to Food Waste and Food Packaging, Wrap and partners, March 2013

Food Ditties

Comedian, writer and poet Kate Fox has written a series of short poems to celebrate the launch of Fresher for Longer.

Bread

Don’t get in a spin
It really is no teaser
Clip half your bag in a bread bin
And the other half in the freezer.

Cheese

Easy peasy cheesy store,
Ziplock, Tupperware, fridge drawer.
Fridges and freezers
Are good for hard cheeses.

About Author

colin

colin

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