Industry News

Consumers continue to focus on sustainability, waste reduction through COVID

Despite indulging more in restaurant takeout, delivery and home-shipped meal kits during the pandemic, consumers are more focused than ever on reducing waste and their impact on the environment. 

That may be surprising, considering a large majority of restaurant food has been eaten at home as the pandemic caused restaurant closures and lingering fear in would-be diners. But as so many more Americans are experiencing restaurants through a delivery service or a take-out box, we’re leaning deeply into the belief that sustainability is a personal responsibility, a recent Datassential survey revealed. 

That growing feeling of personal responsibility has moved sustainability from a buzzword to a behavior shift, with both concerns of plastic overuse and food waste leading to habit changes across generations. In the survey, 70% of people say the environment is the primary motivation when it comes to finding ways to avoid plastic with purchases. And more than half of respondents (58%) say they feel a responsibility to use less plastic. 

Although disposable plastic use remains largely inescapable when it comes to buying food or drinks, many consumers feel they have a duty to find ways to tackle the problem on their own, mostly by using reusable products where they can or reusing the plastic containers they receive several times after the initial purchase. 

Food waste is even more of a concern than single-use plastic, the survey revealed. Nearly four out of five consumers (72%) say they’ve tried to cut their food waste, mostly through a focus on portions and not making or ordering more than they needed.

As more consumers feel self-motivated to reduce waste, they’re increasingly attracted to companies that show they are doing the same. At least two-thirds of all consumers say they are attracted by several specific approaches that a restaurant operator or food manufacturer could do to promote sustainability. That includes an effort to move toward more sustainable packaging and discounts for consumers who use reusable containers, both of which have very high appeal. 

But other efforts, ranging from an in-restaurant compost bin/station to a reduction in the number of plastic containers or utensils included with a meal, also resonate with consumers. While plastics are still ubiquitous in our lives, particularly in the pandemic, it’s the baby steps — and assurance that consumers know operators are moving in the right direction — that are the most important thing. 

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Samantha Des Jardins is a writer for Datassential, a food industry market research and insights firm.

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