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Why does food get wasted? Collecting consumer data to make better decisions

October 4, 2021

Research collaboration seeks to learn how consumers respond to messages on packaging

The United States discards 80 billion pounds of food every year. That’s roughly 30-40% of our nation’s food supply that goes uneaten. Food production itself creates carbon emissions, then landfill waste results in methane that worsens climate change. It’s a problem that harms the economy, too — surplus food costs the country $408 billion annually.

With all the stakeholders responsible for getting groceries to consumers, opportunities to improve abound. Too often, food partners are hands-off, instead pushing responsibility onto others:

  • The supply chain must be more efficient getting products from farm to table.
  • Retailers should look for ways to move food out of warehouses and off shelves faster.
  • Consumers want less packaged food, but don’t appreciate how packaging reduces food waste.
  • Manufacturers have to prioritize innovation for keeping products fresher for longer.

The first stage of this study in partnership with Walmart and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) considers whether freshness seals on grocery products makes a difference in consumer decision-making that leads to purchase .

This white paper reports data on the study’s findings, and draws conclusions that will help retailers, brand owners and packaging designers understand how consumers perceive food freshness labels. The research has broader applications for helping reduce the widespread food waste problem.

Data from this first in a series of research studies gives insights into how suppliers, vendors, manufacturers and retailers can all collaborate to reverse this worsening trend.


Quad’s Package InSight has created a fully stocked, state-of-the-art retail laboratory at its headquarters. Participants shop from a list while wearing eye-tracking glasses that measure focus and fixation on packaging elements in the controlled environment. Other studies end with qualitative data — responses to survey questions and only the results of behavior. Package InSight quantitatively studies the why to uncover factors that even participants aren’t aware of, including emotional responses.

The retail lab work supplemented a qualitative national survey that asked participants their opinions on various retail security devices, the feelings they elicit, and how they impact shoppers’ perceptions of products.