Consumer Behaviors & Perceptions of Food Waste

Consumer Behaviors & Perceptions of Food Waste

Food Waste: Does Location Make a Difference?

Two in five people say they never think about food waste while eating out.

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Food waste is a pressing public health issue. The United Nations estimates about a third of food that is produced annually is wasted each year, which could mean that over one billion tons of food ends up in landfills. But some people may not understand how much food they waste, or know where they are most likely to create food waste, or be familiar with practical steps they can take to reduce their food waste. To better understand public perceptions and behaviors around food waste, the IFIC Foundation commissioned a consumer research study of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older from August 13 to August 14, 2019. This research offers insight into how and where we might look to address this complex issue.

Leftovers and fresh produce top the list of foods wasted at home

When asked to choose the top three types of food that were most often wasted at home in the last month, 74 percent reported leftovers of foods prepared at home were most often wasted. A close second source of waste was produce (67 percent), while leftovers from restaurants ranked third (50 percent). Why does food get wasted at home? In a question that asked consumers to choose their top two reasons, 83 percent reported spoiled or stale food as the most common reason foods ended up in the trash. Forty-nine percent reported their top reason was cleaning out the pantry.

Food waste is less of a concern when eating out

In addition to assessing consumer actions, this study was also designed to gauge how often food waste was on people’s minds during three different occasions: while grocery shopping, while eating at home, and while eating out. More than one in three (34 percent) always think about food waste while grocery shopping and more than one in four (28 percent) said the same when eating at home. Conversely, 24 percent and 22 percent said that food waste never crosses their mind while grocery shopping or while eating at home, respectively.

However, food waste doesn’t appear to be as much on consumers’ minds when eating outside the home. Fewer than one in five (19 percent) report always thinking about food waste while eating out and nearly two in five (39 percent) say they never think about it.

Food waste is more top-of-mind for younger generations

Age seems to impact how often people consider food waste: Those 45 years and younger are more likely to think about food waste while grocery shopping, eating out and eating at home. Differences were observed between ethnicities, too, with significantly more Hispanic/Latinx-identifying people reporting that they always think about food waste during each of these occasions.

Money is a primary motivator

Regardless of the setting, the top reason that consumers think about food waste is the same: to reduce the amount of money they spend on food. While reducing food waste can benefit the planet, more people tend to think about how reducing food waste benefits them individually, with saving money outweighing people’s concern for the environment.

In response to the economic and environmental effects of food waste, several campaigns and resources (e.g. Love Food, Hate Waste, Let’s Talk Trash, FoodKeeper App and Food: Too Good to Waste Toolkit) have been developed, highlighting the growing importance of reducing waste and encouraging food consumers to act in meaningful and productive ways. For more information on how to reduce food waste, check out these resources: Food Waste 101, Reducing Food Waste On the Go, A Chef’s Recipe for Stopping Food Waste, and more.


“A Survey of Consumer Behaviors & Perceptions of Food Waste” interviewed 1,000 adults 18 years and older from Aug. 13 and 14, 2019and was weighted to ensure proportional results. It had a margin of error of 3.1% at a 95% confidence level.