The recipe for success: The behavioural nudges needed to combat food waste

Food waste is everywhere, and great efforts are being made to reduce it. Sadie Westwood, Business Director at creative agency 23red, discusses how communications campaigns should make use of nudges and targeted messaging to encourage people to waste less food

‘Waste not, want not’, so the saying goes, but with one million tonnes of food being thrown away by the UK Hospitality and Food Industry (HaFS) every year, it’s time for change.

And change is coming. But as Extinction Rebellion continues to protest climate change, we must remember that a revolution is also needed on a smaller scale in kitchens across the country. From Michelin star chef to canteen worker to pot washer, everyone has a part to play in combating food waste, which contributes eight per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Big change starts with a change in behaviour, from everybody – corporate powerhouse, global institution or child in the playground. That’s why campaigns that encourage a call to action, however small, have a place in our efforts to address the climate emergency, specifically in the fight against food waste.

Sadie Westwood, Business Director at 23red.
Sadie Westwood, Business Director at 23red.
Let’s start with the fact that seventy five percent of that one million tonnes of food the HaFS sector threw away last year could have been eaten. We didn’t need to throw this much away; we just need the fundamental knowledge required to reduce food waste in the UK.

Throughout my career I have specialised in behaviour change campaigns, from getting people to see the value of giving blood to encouraging huge swathes of people to give up smoking, and the unifying thing behind them all is making sure your message is meaningful and gets to the right people.

You must repeatedly encourage and nudge people towards making small changes, which eventually become a big overall change in behaviour. Crucially, you have to be clear on your reasons why. If people understand why you are trying to do something differently, they are much more likely to support it.

Initiatives like Stand Up For Food Month, which has just come to an end, raise awareness of what the HaFS industry can do to implement change and make a big difference to the environment.

This formed part of the bigger Guardians of Grub campaign led by the waste reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which spreads the message that everyone within this industry, from the CEO to the pot wash, is equally responsible and complicit in tackling food waste.

The campaign champions a clear message. It asks those targeted to use constant checks, including weighing produce to ensure exactly the right amount of everything is bought, and even weighing waste, to see where it is that waste is being created and to track how it changes over time. It encourages stock buyers not to let food waste eat away at their profits, and to keep track, crunch the numbers, be obsessed and save produce where possible.

Target specific groups with specific messages, appeal to them emotionally and rationally. Those in front line in hospitality need different goals and initiatives to influential sector bodies or celebrity chef ambassadors.

Guardians of Grub appeals to those audiences individually and the toolkit has been created for leading hospitality business including Apetito, BaxterStorey, Bidfood, Casual Dining Group, Deliveroo, Greene King and Unilever Food Solutions.

It implores CEOs and founders to analyse the financial angle and then spread the message to their peers; with food waste costing our industry £2.9 billion ever year it makes business sense to reduce it. They are supported by other senior figures in the UK HaFS industry, such as the Government’s Food Surplus & Waste Champion, Ben Elliot, and well-known chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Skye Gyngell, Adam Handling, Ken Hom, Melissa Hemsley, Thomasina Miers, who have been active in the press and on social media.

Those figures can enact new policies, but it is vital that senior staff, such as head chefs and stock buyers realise the importance of their role too. No matter what part we play in the food chain, we all have the power to affect change.

23red is a creative agency specialising in behaviour change and recently worked with WRAP on its Stand Up For Food Month as part of its Guardians of Grub campaign targeting food waste in the hospitality sector.