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Do promotions contribute to food waste?

With global supply chains being threatened by a combination of extreme climate events and transport restrictions, it is increasingly important to tackle the global problem of wasted food. Most of this waste occurs in our homes. People buy food, presumably with the intention of eating it, but end up throwing much of it away.

We can only change this behaviour if we first understand its causes. There is a popular assumption that retailers encourage over-purchasing through discounts and multi-buy deals such as the famous "buy-one-get-one-free".

Esade researchers Marco Bertini and Julia von Schuckmann partnered with Netherlands-based university associates Arjen van Lin (Tilburg University), Aylin Aydinli (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), and Erica van Herpen (Wageningen University), to test this question in a systematic way.

In the research, households reported how the products they bought were ultimately used, including whether any portion was thrown away. The findings highlight that many intuitive ideas about why people buy and eat things might be wrong.

This fieldwork took place in 2019, and so does not consider the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on consumer behaviours. However, it still reflects a wide range of factors that influence whether we buy more or less of something. Such factors include our anticipated consumption and our attitude towards value and good deals.

Food waste occurs as a consequence of a complex pattern of household behaviours. However, after matching samples to control for factors such as household size, income, and age, as well as declared attitudes to waste and frugality, the researchers concluded that discounted and multibuy purchases did not contribute to increased food wastage. In fact, households that purchased under multibuys wasted less than households that purchased at regular prices.

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