- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), approximately one-third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste every year.
- Study used a choice experiment to determine what consumers would be willing to pay for tomatoes and bananas that were given a natural coating to increase shelf-life.
- Overall, customers were willing to pay more for either produce option with a coating but would pay a higher premium for naturally coated tomatoes.
Food waste is a significant problem for our economy, our communities, and the planet. The food that spoils before it can be used amounts to a significant loss of resources to feed the growing population. It also represents a loss of money for those purchasing food they are unable to consume and sellers who are unable to sell food before it goes bad.
However, new research from FRE associate professor Dr. Di Fang shows that consumers are willing to pay more for a natural coating on bananas and tomatoes that can extend their shelf life and reduce food waste. The results highlight the growing awareness and concern about food waste and the potential for innovative solutions to address the issue. Fang and her colleagues collected over 1,000 survey responses from U.S. consumers aged 18 and older between November 30 to December 16, 2020 to determine how a natural coating might impact willingness to pay for bananas and tomatoes.
The willingness to pay a premium was higher for tomatoes than bananas and much higher for both when presented with information.
For this study, the researchers chose to include two different types of produce – tomatoes and bananas. This allowed them to look at the difference between a fruit that was consumed with the skin on versus one that is peeled first. Tomatoes are also priced higher on average, go to waste more often (75% of consumers waste tomatoes compared to 50% who waste bananas), and have a longer extension of shelf-life because of the coating than the bananas do.
Overall, the information on the benefits of naturally coated produce in reducing household food waste influences purchasing behavior, resulting in a higher willingness to pay. However, the effect was more significant when they were asked about how much they would pay for tomatoes.
Consumers across all categories were willing to pay $2.68 more on average for the coating to tomatoes when they were presented with the treatment information. In comparison, they were only willing to pay 82 cents more for the naturally coated bananas.
These results show that demand is there for the product, which can help inform stakeholders who are making decisions about whether or not to pay to coat their produce before sale.
“Stakeholders should develop technology to naturally coat fruits and vegetables that do not have natural peels,” Fang said.
Those who are already food waste or environmentally conscious are willing to pay a higher premium for food-waste reduction coating.
To understand how pre-held values and perceptions of consumers would impact their choices, participants were also sorted into groups based on their current food waste habits, high or low, and environmental consciousness, high or low.
When results were compared within these groups instead of with the whole sample, it showed that those with a high environmental consciousness were willing to pay the highest premium for naturally coated bananas, while those with low food waste habits were willing to pay the most for naturally coated tomatoes.
“People who are more environmentally friendly and waste conscious generally tend to pay more to reduce food waste,” Fang said. “Marketers should target these consumer segments with their relevant products.”
Moving forward, continued research to better understand the consumer’s perception of natural coatings and other produce-saving measures will allow us to implement policy, technology and marketing changes that can help reduce the amount of food that is going to waste.
“Reducing food waste contributes to the overall goal of sustainable agriculture,” Fang said. “Our research shows consumers are responsive to technology that reduces waste and are capable of changing their behaviors accordingly. Although still a niched market at the moments, stakeholders should invest into such technologies that help naturally reduce food decay as there is definitely a demand from the consumer segment.”
The full article is available for download here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jaa2.47
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