Nudging for better choices – How to get consumers to eat rescued food?

24 May, 2016
  • 5 min read

In times where environmental issues are high on the agenda in most countries, it is hard to believe that about a third of all the world’s food is wasted.

The impact of food waste is underestimated. In fact, food production causes pollution, requires high amounts of water and use of natural resources all of which contribute to climate change. And again, about 30% just goes to waste. It happens at all levels of the food chain. There are several interesting initiatives to tackle this problem in the Netherlands. On a consumer level, take for example the Damn Food Waste events. They are creating great consumer awareness about food waste and during their last event 2015 in Rotterdam, they served 3000 meals from 1000 kilo of rescued food i.e. food that would have been wasted otherwise. On retail level, there is the In-Stock restaurant, take away and food truck. They collect all the produce that can no longer be sold in Albert Hein supermarkets due to expiration dates or visual degradation and create their daily dishes from that.

It means not only a very varied menu but also a very tasty one as the produce they receive is often at their best. Think of for example brown bananas that taste the best when they have reached this stage of maturity. Yet, nobody wants to buy them then in the supermarket. Lastly, on a producer and retail level, there is the Verspillingsfabriek. In their effort to reduce food waste, they collect vegetables from Plus supermarkets that can no longer be sold due to deformations or miscolouring. They also pick up produce from farmers that did not make it into the supermarket. Strict regulations at a retail level indeed causes high wastage at a producers level, 39%, as many vegetables in particular might not have the right form, shape or size. From the vegetables that the Verspillingsfabriek collect, they currently make soup, sauces and paste under the brand ‘Overlekker'. It is shipped back and sold in Plus supermarkets.

For permanent initiatives like In-stock and the Verspillingsfabriek to be financially viable and successful businesses, it is vital that they receive consumer support. And whilst consumers often indicate that they are environmentally concerned and intend to behave in a sustainable way, their actual behaviour still show a different pattern. Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PLB) published for example in 2014 that although the large majority of all Dutch have the intention to support sustainably produced food, only 10% buy sustainably produced food weekly. In a similar vein, more than 95% of the Dutch find it important to reduce food waste. Yet, we throw away more than 50 kg of meat per person per year. Thus, there is a big gap between consumer intention and behaviour.

To bridge this gap, research is needed. At Hoteschool The Hague, we are currently exploring how to ‘nudge’ consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices with regards to what we call ‘up-cycled’ foods. This is food that is made for human consumption from otherwise wasted foods or produce that would have been given to animals. As demographics and values have shown to have limited influence on consumer choice, we turn to social psychology and behavioural economics to find mechanisms, or nudges, to trigger consumers to support these food rescuing initiatives.

Nudging is about changing features in the social environment so that it affect consumer choice without putting pressure or giving an incentive to a particular choice. As a way of nudging consumers to choose of an up-cycled food alternative, we explore various communication strategies.

In doing that, we explore different message appeals. For example, how might different benefit appeals be more or less effective depending on the consumption context? Research to date shows that environmental message appeals work better in a public setting i.e. where others can see where and how the product is consumed whereas self-benefit appeals such as taste, quality and price are more effective in a private context*. We aim to explore if this holds for up-cycled foods as well.

We are also looking further into the effect of incorporating social norms in the message frame. Meaning encouraging consumers to behave as others do i.e. explicitly mention what the norms are on a particular issue. To this effect, Goldstein and colleagues showed in 2008 that by adding the below text to the tent card in the bathroom to encourage multiple day usage, they were able to increase the towel hanging behaviour from 34% to 44%.**  

JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. In a study conducted in Fall 2003, 75% of the guests participated in our new resource savings program by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”

Finally, we are exploring the principle of reciprocity. Consumers are more inclined to give or to change behaviour if they feel that the company has done something first. Again this is norm driven. If somebody does something for someone, it is believed to be the ‘right thing to do’ to do something back. Research shows accordingly that when a hotel shows and communicates that they have donated a sum of money to an environmental cause, guests are 45% more likely to do ‘their part’ by reusing their towels more than once***. This is a significant improvement that can lead to substantial changes by only changing a few sentences on the tent card in the bathroom.

We believe that such message framing options can also be applied in a food waste and up-cycled food context. If framed correctly, we expect that the message communicated to consumers can have a significant influence in nudging them to make more environmentally friendly choices.

Read the Dutch article, published in Hospitality Management (page 38): '30 procent van al het voedsel gaat verloren'

Used sources for this article

* Green, T. & Peloza, J. (2014). Finding the right shade of green: The effect of advertising Appeal Type on environmentally friendly consumption. Journal of Advertising, 43(2), 128-141.
** Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research35(3), 472-482.
*** Goldstein, N. J., Griskevicius, Cialdini, R. B. (2011). Reciprocity by Proxy: A Novel Influence Strategy for Stimulating Cooperation. Administrative Science Quarterly 56 (3), 441–473.

About the author

Anna de Visser-Amundson

Anna de Visser-Amundson, Research Fellow in Consumer Choice Behaviour, obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Switzerland and her Masters Degree in Marketing from the VU University in the Netherlands. Before embarking on an academic career, Mrs. De Visser-Amundson held management positions in both multinational hotel companies and in independent operators in France, United States, Ireland and the Dutch Caribbean. Triggered by the motivation, self confidence and eagerness to learn of many of her Hotelschool interns during her time as Sales and Marketing Director, Mrs. De Visser-Amundson was delighted to accept a position as Senior Marketing Lecturer at the Hotelschool The Hague when she relocated with her family to the Netherlands in 2008.

In summer of 2013, she became a Research Fellow in the research group Strategic Pricing & Revenue Management. She finds great strength in being able to combine her commercial hospitality background with academic insights both when it comes to working with students but also in research. Understanding the challenges and the opportunities in running a hospitality business by 'having been there', gives her a perspective to the research that is difficult to apply if you have not experienced it yourself. Driven by her sales background to get "heads in beds", where understanding the consumer choice process is key to make the deal, Mrs. de Visser-Amundson is particularly interested in how hospitality companies can differentiate their offerings by means of customization, its effect on consumer choice, consumer experiences, perceived value and willingness to pay.

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