By: Rudy Sanchez
E-Mart, a Korean chain of grocery stores, released a six-day pack of bananas, with varying degrees of ripeness so consumers can buy a week’s worth of bananas and not waste any of them. E-Mart’s produce buyer Lee Jin-pyo promises to “show more diverse ideas by listening to the inconveniences of consumers.”
Food waste is not only frustrating for consumers, but it also has a significant impact on the environment given the number of resources that are used to bring them to market in the first place. Bananas have a limited lifespan on the shelf, and in Britain alone,1.4 million bananas are thrown out every day.
E-Mart has created a novel approach to reducing thrown-out bananas. Although packaging bananas into plastic is superfluous—they come with their own natural packaging, to begin with—it’s a small step to reducing food waste, but aren’t we just creating more single-use plastic bound for our waterways or a landfill?
Another scientific approach is being developed by the US Department of Agriculture that replaces plastic film with a casein-based one that blocks microbes and oxygen better than plastic, is biodegradable, water-soluble, and edible. Produce can be sheathed against the elements without the need for plastic.
Other ways to reduce food waste include solutions designed to extend the life of produce. This gives retailers an opportunity to keep food on the shelf for longer, allowing customers more time to consume them. One such technology— called It’s Fresh!—uses an ethylene filter that’s added to any package. Ethylene acts as a plant hormone and causes fruits and vegetables to ripen. By absorbing and capturing ethylene, It’s Fresh! Filters delay the ripening of produce. Add this to a compostable package that could degrade in your home garden, and you could have a viable solution to food and plastic waste.
According to a study by Cone Communications, nine out of ten Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause. Generation Z, those right behind Millennials, also spend and, more importantly, stop spending based on social issues and causes. A study by DoSomething.org found that 76% of Gen Z’ers have purchased or would purchase based on the issues a brand supported. On the flip side, 67% of Gen Z’ers said they have stopped supporting or would consider doing so if a company stood for something they disagreed with.
Nielsen found that two-thirds of shoppers find things like sustainability and a commitment to social values more important than price, sales, or coupons. Brands should look at the causes these two demographics value the most, including sustainability, and put whatever initiatives to further those causes front and center in their advertising, marketing and even on the package.
Consumers are using their purchasing power to support causes they believe in, and that means reducing food and packaging waste.
One-third of all food is wasted, and with it, all the resources used to make, transport, store and sell that food. The next frontier in sustainability is finding ways to reduce the amount of food that goes to waste—in the US, 80% of food waste happens at the retail and consumer level. Consumer awareness and technical innovation will go a long way towards making our food habits more sustainable.
Let’s just hope it involves a lot less plastic.
Rudy Sanchez is a product marketing consultant based in Southern California. Once described by a friend as her “technology life coach,” he is a techie and avid lifelong gamer. When he’s not writing or helping clients improve their products, he’s either watching comedies on Netflix, playing the latest shooter or battle royale game or out exploring the world via Ingress and Pokémon Go.
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