The results make for compelling reading especially as reducing household food waste has been a central tenet of UK environmental policy since 2007.
According to the government-funded charity, The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the UK wastes 15 million tonnes of food annually, of which 7 million tonnes are generated at a household level.
Convenience food in the UK has been recognised as central to food provision and can be explained by changes in household demographics such as larger numbers of working women and a decline in domestic cooking skills.
While the consumption of convenience food might be expected to reduce household food waste, a Swiss survey reported that convenience food consumption was inversely associated with waste avoidance.
The survey, set out to explore levels of household food waste and how they correlated to food preferences, attitudes to food consumption and how it fitted into the subjects' lifestyle.
The survey was particularly interested in younger UK consumers who are both known to favour convenience food and report high levels of food waste.
A sample size of 928 was identified and given a 250-item questionnaire, which comprised four sections. These sections asked the subject about their demographics and food waste behaviour.
In addition, the remaining two sections measured attitudinal and behavioural traits associated with food-related activities, and frequency of convenience food consumption.
Whilst the sample size comprised of geographically diverse individuals with a wide range of occupational and educational backgrounds, the researchers were able to identify five distinct consumer groups, which displayed distinct lifestyle characteristics.
Casual Consumers (CCs) made up 26.5% of the sample and reported only occasionally planning meals in advance. They were the most likely of all groups to snack instead of adhering to set meal times.
Of all the consumer groups, CCs were the most positive towards convenience food reflected by their reported enjoyment of take-away food and ready meals of which they were the second highest consumers.
CCs also both bought and discarded the most foodstuffs overall, discarding an average of 7.6% of food purchases. CCs threw away 10.0% of fresh vegetables, 9.8% of fresh fruit and wasted the largest proportion of all other foods.
This high level of waste was mirrored in their reported plate waste, surplus cooked food or food from previous meals and both partially used and unopened products. CCs reported moderate concern over discarding food (between ‘a little’ and ‘a fair amount’).
Kitchen Evaders (KEs) were the next defined group making up 15.2% of the sample. Along with CCs, they were most likely to rate convenience food highly.
They expressed enjoyment of both ready meals and take-away food and rated the value for money of convenience food as the highest of all the consumer groups.
Epicures accounted for 14.5% of the sample and exhibited very distinct attitudinal and behavioural traits compared to the other consumer groups: they were disinterested in convenience food.
Traditional consumers (TCs) made up 27.5% of the sample and while they harboured marginally negative sentiments towards convenience food, they appreciated its time saving aspect, albeit recognising the associated cost.
The last group to emerge were Food Detached Consumers (FDs) accounting for 16.3% of the sample. They also displayed a negative attitude towards convenience food, although they moderately acknowledged its time saving benefit.
“The CCs identified here appear to represent a new and distinct group that have pronounced consumerist tendencies,” the study acknowledged.
“CCs had the largest average household size, which might render them better positioned to take advantage of economies of scale, however CCs were the most wasteful consumer group. It is plausible that their high level of waste is an adjunct to this group's low frequency of consumption of family meals and their need to accommodate ‘fussy eaters’.”
The findings of this study positively reinforce the findings of a previous study carried out in the United Kingdom in 2002. Here, the convenience profile of FDs mirrored that of ‘convenience seeking grazers.’
Compared with the other groups, CCs and KEs reported demonstrably higher levels of all types of food waste. Notably it was these two groups that were the most positive towards convenience food.
KE's predilection for ready meals and takeaway food may be related to their reports of poor culinary skills and limited time spent in the kitchen. Studies have shown that the use of convenience food is inversely proportional to cooking ability.
Unlike KEs, CCs possessed reasonable culinary skills and moderately enjoyed cooking, suggesting that CC's reliance on convenience food was due to other factors.
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.03.017
“Attitudes and behaviour towards convenience food and food waste in the United Kingdom.”
Authors: Lucy J. Mallinson, Jean M. Russell, Margo E. Barker,