Food Waste: Don’t Blame It On the Specials

Jan 09, 2012

The intended consequence of promotional offers is increased sales. The unintended consequence is increased waste caused by retailers, or so many perceive. However, according to a study by the U.K.’s Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), that perception is not actually true.

Endorsing the report, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said "the debate about food waste should focus on helping households reduce the amount they throw away rather than blaming retailer practices," according to The Associated Press. BRC’s head of environment, Bob Gordon, praised the research and highlighted the fact that few people actually admit to wasting food themselves while believing that others do. He defended retailers, emphasizing the role they have played in reducing the amount of food wasted while admitting there is more to do.

Of the 1,800 adults surveyed, some 44 percent believed "buying food on offer leads to a greater amount being thrown away." Asked about their own behavior, though, only four percent admitted to wasting food bought while it was on offer.

Mr. Gordon claimed that the 30 percent of food purchased that is actually wasted could be further reduced through "educating people to shop smarter and do better at managing the storage and use of food … rather than blaming promotions." Explaining that promotions exist because they are "highly valued by customers," he stressed that competition plays an important part in keeping costs down.

According to WRAP’s survey, buy one, get one free (BOGO) offers comprise "less than two percent of all products bought" with straightforward price reductions representing the majority of promotions.

Established as a not-for-profit organization, WRAP is publicly funded. Its website explains its ambition "to help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way." The BRC points to figures recently published by WRAP showing a 13 per cent decrease in household food waste over the past three years.

Meanwhile, American environmental action group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has just published a guide explaining how much is wasted in the U.S. and what it costs along with suggestions on how to change things.

Discussion Questions: Do promotions lead to food waste? Is it the responsibility of retailers to teach consumers about reducing waste? Is this a role, if undertaken by retailers, that consumers would appreciate?

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8 Comments on "Food Waste: Don’t Blame It On the Specials"

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Bob Phibbs

The first time I ate at Carnegie Deli in NYC I was shocked at the prices, the enormous portions, the fee to share a plate and the amounts routinely thrown away. While such giant sandwiches might appear as smart marketing, I couldn’t help but feel eating there was the height of hedonism as I saw homeless people outside hoping someone would sneak out a leftover half of sandwich for them. I never have gone back.

In this context is it really up to a retailer to tell people how to not waste the sale food they purchased at the grocery store? I can’t imagine how anything meaningful could affect behavior….

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
5 years 4 months ago

The prevailing pattern of pricing food products at 10 for X dollars, Buy One and Get One Free and similar “buy more than you need” offers encourage consumers to purchase more than they really need to save a buck. This can lead to food waste … as many of us know.

Retailers are focused primarily on selling as much merchandise that they can, not on reducing food waste. The consumers are not expecting retailers to take on the role of lecturing on food waste nor would they appreciate paying more for such lectures from their retailer.

Food waste is a problem looking for common sense.

Ian Percy

This is like the argument “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” In this case it’s “promotions don’t waste food, wasters waste food.”

Jonathan Bloom, creator of, says that America throws away 160 to 295 billion pounds of food every single year — or enough to fill a 90,000 seat stadium to the brim every single day. Admit it or not, this is a country of wasters. But it has little or nothing to do with promotions.

There are new companies like Vermisoks based here in AZ who are gathering waste food from hotels and restaurants, liquifying it and using it as feedstock for organic gardens. And apparently there was a cable show recently that was all about how to creatively use food that would normally be thrown out.

Like all our ‘problems’ waste is a self-inflicted wound.

Ed Rosenbaum

The question posed consists of “Is it the responsibility of retailers to teach consumers about reducing waste?” It poses two questions to me:
1- Why should this be the responsibility of the retailer?
2- Don’t we have enough sense to do this ourselves?

I don’t know why this subject “eats” at me, but it does. Nothing is ever anyone’s responsibility today. Remember the comedic phrase “It’s not my job.” Nothing is ever anyone’s “job”. We were raised and educated in the world’s brightest and best economic environment. And yet no one is ever responsible for anything today. “Let someone else do it. I am too busy.” Bull!!!

Roy White

To blame promotions for food waste is one of the worst ideas that has ever come along. It woefully underestimates the intelligence of shoppers by suggesting they don’t know how to buy. Promotions are a positive for consumers, especially in this still cash-strapped economy, by allowing consumers to stretch limited dollars further. Any public move to make promotions look like a liability is actually dangerous.

Ralph Jacobson

Although there is waste throughout the supply chain, a major contributor to the 50% of all food being wasted is the consumer throwing out food at home. However, there is typically little or no connection to a promotion at the retail level driving increase tonnage stored in excess at the home. Bottom line, people buy too much perishable food, in general, for their consumption needs.

Theresa Fortune
Theresa Fortune
5 years 4 months ago

To Ian’s point, people waste food and it has absolutely nothing to do with promotions! The “The Big Waste” on the Food Network brings to light the vast amount of good food that goes to waste by the food retailers for such reasons as: the blemished vegetables that can’t be sold because people want a “perfect” looking peach or tomato, or a customer orders food for an event and returns it if they bought too much or the event is cancelled, and this is perfectly good but cannot be sold again. It has become a terrible habit of waste in an economy and society that values perfection and gluttony.

If food retailers were to take the initiative to have a program that saves most of this food in some kind of give-back program that also educates consumers on food consumption management, they will earn the appreciation from the consumer. Allowing consumers to learn by example. This can evolve into a good marketing program.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
5 years 4 months ago

An answer looking for a question. Any possibility of narrowing this discussion to perishable products? Promotions for packaged goods do not lead to food waste. And frankly, supermarket promotions of ANY kind of food do not lead to waste. It’s a specious argument. Stores buy more because the cost is low, and then sell a bunch of it to customers at discounted prices. Grocery retailers are not stupid. They know how much to order to avoid as much waste as possible. They generally continue to discount it until it’s gone.


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