As a country, are we getting bulkier? And for once, this is not in reference to the rising obesity epidemic. Today, we’re talking grocery shopping in bulk, convenience and of course – food waste.
A modern approach to grocery shopping frequently involves the purchase of food items in bulk. More shoppers are joining wholesale clubs where the grocery carts and the receipts seem to be getting larger every day.
Why are so drawn to these big stores and seemingly “bigger deals”?
Purchasing items in bulk and stocking food at home relates to both over-purchasing and the inability to manage food once it’s stocked at home (Porpino, Parente, & Wansink, 2015). Often items are purchased in such large quantities that they cannot be used up before going bad. Furthermore, shopping at wholesale clubs and purchasing bulk items seems to underpin over-preparing food – which then leads to more food waste (Porpino et al., 2015).
Evidence shows that this practice can be influenced by increased storage space (notably, larger fridge and freezers), convenience, and of course, interest in saving money (Schanes, Dobernig, & Gözet, 2018). Whatever the motivation, this practice can unfortunately contribute to household food waste.
Let’s take a closer look at how and why this behavior occurs.
Let us first consider the perceived convenience of shopping in bulk. In North America, we tend to reserve our grocery shopping to a once-weekly activity. This involves planning ahead and is typically viewed as a chore to be completed as efficiently as possible. When shopping for the next 7 days, we may overestimate how much food we actually need – resulting in the creation of our very own stockpile at home. When deciding how much of an item to purchase, we tend to use the “better safe than sorry” motto and purchase a little more than we might need “just in case”.
Although stockpiling food for unexpected occasions is seen to reduce stress and save time, it can result in over-purchasing products that will not be used up before going bad (Schanes et al., 2018).
- Cost savings
Over-purchasing and buying in bulk may also have an economic motivator. There exists a widely spread assumption that promotional offers such as “buy one, get one free” encourage consumers to purchase more than they had initially intended, and likely more than they actually need (Schanes et al., 2018). Porpino et al. (2015) found that strategies typically used to save money – such as buying items in bulk – end up generating more food waste. This consequential food waste ultimately mitigates any savings incurred during the purchasing phase.
Furthermore, surveys have shown that consumers often attribute food waste to the large package sizes food products are sold in. These larger packages are not suitable for smaller households but the alternative – smaller packages – are comparatively high in price. One survey examining reasons for household food waste found that 20-25% of food waste was reportedly due to overly large package sizes and difficult-to-empty packaging (Schanes et al., 2018).
Finally, discounted food may carry a reduced perceived value. Because something was either purchased on sale or else as part of a bulk deal, it may be valued less by the consumer. This may result in it being wasted without as much concern as would be attributed to a more expensive item.
- Fear of Running Out
An additional motivator for this behavior may be a fear of running out of food. As discussed in a previous blog post, the good provider identity compels individuals to maintain a full fridge, freezer and pantry as well as to prepare extra servings for a dinner party to avoid not having enough food (Visschers, Wickli, & Siegrist, 2016). The fear of running out of food often results in over-purchasing as well as over-preparation and thus, increased food waste. However, there may be more to it than just that. Part of the reason why we stockpile food may also be due to an interest in maintaining an appearance of abundance. For some, a fear of food insecurity may run deep, resulting in keeping more food than necessary at home.
All of this begs the question: is none better than two-for-one when it comes to reducing food waste?
Porpino, G., Parente, J., & Wansink, B. (2015). Food waste paradox: Antecedents of food disposal in low income households. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(6), 619–629. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcs.12207
Schanes, K., Dobernig, K., & Gözet, B. (2018). Food waste matters – A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of Cleaner Production, 182, 978–991. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.030
Visschers, V. H. M., Wickli, N., & Siegrist, M. (2016). Sorting out food waste behaviour: A survey on the motivators and barriers of self-reported amounts of food waste in households. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 45, 66–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.11.007