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Supermarkets still encouraging UK shoppers to buy too much food, survey finds

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BOGOF deals and price discounts among the reasons cited in new poll by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Supermarkets are still encouraging UK shoppers to overbuy food one year on from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ influential report Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, according to a new public survey released today.

70% of those polled said supermarkets urged them to increase their food purchasing over the festive season – with 45% saying they did buy more.

These shoppers said Buy-One-Get-One-Free offers (72%) and half price promotions (70%) were the major ways supermarkets attracted them, with more than a third naming discounts such as vouchers, ‘money off single items’ and loyalty card offers as other routes to increased buying.

The Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not report, released in January 2013, estimated that between 30 and 50% of all food produced around the world never reaches a human stomach – with discounts by retailers, confusion regarding date labelling and perceptions of consumer demand for  cosmetically perfect produce among the reasons cited for food waste.

These latest results show that a fifth of the people polled wasted or threw away more than 10% of the food they bought over Christmas and New Year. More encouragingly however, 41% said they wasted or threw away less than 10% and more than a third of the people surveyed said they did not waste or throw away any food– which could suggest people paid attention to the unprecedented campaigns on food waste by the Institution and others in 2013.

Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“This latest survey shows that UK shoppers still feel they are encouraged to buy too much food, despite significant progress on raising awareness of food waste in 2013, and some retailer action to reduce over-purchasing.

“There are various reasons why around a third to a half of all food produced in the world never reaches a human stomach, and while it would be wrong to lay all of the blame for waste with the supermarkets - deals like Buy-One-Get-One-Free, ‘half price’ offers and various other price discounting methods do exacerbate the problem.

“It is certainly a concern that over a fifth of the people surveyed said they had thrown away more than 10% of the food they bought over the festive period. This food could be used to help feed those in hunger today, and is also an unnecessary waste of the considerable land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food - resources that could be used to meet other human needs.

“If we are to have a sustainable future on a planet with over 9 billion people on board it is important that everybody, from the Government and retailers through to consumers at home, tries to reduce the amount of food that is wasted and thinks about the land, water and energy resources involved in bringing food to the plate.”

The survey of 2,023 people also found that the older generation threw less food away, with 45% of over 65s saying they did not waste or throw away any of the food they purchased over the Christmas and New year period, compared with just 34% of 18-24 year olds giving the same answer.

By 2050 the UN predicts that the world’s population will reach around 9 billion, which could mean an extra two billion mouths to feed. A key issue to dealing with this population growth is how to make more food available for consumption in a world with resources under competing pressures – particularly given the added stresses caused by global warming and the increasing popularity of eating meat – which requires around 10 to 20 times the land resources of food like rice or potatoes.

The world produces about four billion metric tonnes of food per year, but wastes between a third and a half of this food through poor practices and inadequate infrastructure. By improving processes and infrastructure as well as changing consumer and retailer behaviour, we would have the ability to provide enough food to feed the world’s growing population without the need to increase production significantly.

Notes to Editors

  • Methodology: ICM conducted an online poll of 2,023 members of the general public in January 2014. The questions were formulated by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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