AMERIPEN recognizes the significant role American households play as the largest contributor to food waste in the nation, representing 40% of the staggering 120 billion pounds of food wasted each year. New research from Michigan State University’s (MSU) School of Packaging sheds light on how consumers’ understanding of packaging technology may help combat this growing problem.
Minding the Gap: Consumer Awareness of Packaging & Food Waste Reduction, a new white paper summarizing MSU’s research and sponsored by AMERIPEN alongside the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF), offers key insights into types of wasted food, package design strategies, and opportunities to better educate consumers about the features and value of packaging to help them reduce food waste in the home.
Types of Food Wasted & Packaging Considerations
The study, which gleaned and analyzed data from a questionnaire distributed nationwide to over 1,000 respondents of varying demographics, found that fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, and dairy are the most frequently wasted food categories in American households. Packaging, or a lack thereof, is a strong influencing factor on food freshness and waste in these categories.
More than half (56%) of fresh whole fruits and vegetables—the most wasted food group cited by participants—were not packaged and frequently spoiled before consumption. Based on those findings, the researchers assert that some fresh food products, especially produce, could benefit from packaging to extend their shelf life and thereby reduce food waste.
Researchers also found that consumers prefer packaging that more clearly states the shelf life of food products and that active and intelligent packaging technologies, which help consumers identify freshness, could further reduce household food waste.
What Consumers Know—and What They Don’t
When researchers polled consumers about their packaging preferences about in-home food waste reduction, respondents prioritized food freshness, package resilience, and product dating as most important. Researchers also found when study participants were better informed about specific packaging technologies, they often stated a willingness to––and in some cases a preference for––purchasing food contained in packaging that helps reduce food waste. Some would even spend more money on such products.
While this data gives industry leaders an incentive to develop even more sophisticated food protection technologies, the study also found that many U.S. consumers don’t fully understand how different types of packaging can preserve food and stretch household food budgets.
How the Industry Can Help
The study concludes with several recommendations for industry. In terms of design, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and brand owners can develop packaging that extends shelf life upon opening. They should also continue to develop packaging designs that indicate the shelf life of the food product. When thinking about consumer education, the researchers suggest launching consumer awareness and education initiatives that teach people about the various packaging technologies, formats, and features that keep food fresh.
“Extending shelf life is just one of many strategies food packaging designers must consider, and this study reinforces that, while we have made great strides with innovations to reduce food waste, they are underutilized if consumers don’t recognize their value,” said Dan Felton, Executive Director of AMERIPEN. “There is great opportunity here, and industry and government can together take a proactive stance in addressing this critical issue.”