From Waste to Taste: Sustainable Consumption

Today everybody knows about the enormous food waste problem society faces. Back in 2016-2017 when we started the ‘Waste to Taste’ project, that was not the case. Yet, with one third of the world’s food being wasted and 1 out of 7 plates of food goes to waste in restaurants, we felt as a leading Hotelschool that we had to do something about this ‘wicked problem’. I connected with the F&B department and asked if we could rescue food and experiment in our restaurants of how to market ‘rescue-based food’. It started as a small rescue-based soup project (i.e., soup made from otherwise wasted tomatoes). We found that by telling guests that they should buy the rescue-based soup because it saves the environment and other natural resources (versus because it is healthy and has a great taste), it increased rescue-based soup sales with almost 17%. Building on this work, we later found -quite counterintuitively- that when the rescue-based soup is promoted to save the environment it needs to be paired with a white soup bowl instead of a green. We show in our paper published in Journal of Marketing Research that using multiple environmental cues (i.e., environmental benefits and a green bowl) when promoting rescue-based food triggers mental imagery of waste which is detrimental to consumer preferences. In another field study which followed up on a rescue mission of 1000 kilos of pumpkins (which had been cosmetically damaged by summer hail storms) we experiment with the product presentation (versus the promotion of the product). The results show that the visibility of the otherwise wasted ingredient in the rescue-based food influence consumer preferences. Following up on that we find that when selling rescue-based food boxes (i.e., boxes filled with food that is perfectly fit for human consumption but about to be wasted), the specificity of the food box description (i.e., knowing what I get) makes a positive difference in food box orders. Both of these research projects are under journal revisions. More importantly, we show food waste entrepreneurs that rescue-based food has unique marketing challenges which require well designed marketing strategies.

In the last years, this project has grown beyond food waste and also explores other food circularity topics. For example, we have projects on local foods, nudging to promote vegetarian menu options and carbon emission labelling.