Happy without leftovers

April 2014

From sweet woodruff-flavored jelly in Berlin and organic baby food in Hamburg, to the famous tomato salt in Jena: these and many more gastronomic delights are waiting online for anyone able to make use of what others have going spare. www.foodsharing.de has been offering individuals, retailers and producers the chance to get their hands on excess food supplies for free since 2012. If you can give a good home to bread, vegetables and the like, simply come over and collect the goods – completely free. The scheme has one common goal: good quality produce shouldn’t end up in the bin, but rather in the stomach of neighbors. For other consumers, acting in a more environmentally friendly manner with regard to food starts at an even earlier stage. They buy fewer provisions to begin with and bank on the environment benefitting from this strategy.

In the past few years, the number of consumers who are spending less on stocking up the pantry has been constantly on the rise. In 2013, one in two German households consciously spent less on food supplies, meaning less was thrown out. Three years earlier, this figure stood at just 44%, but since then it has steadily increased year-on-year. These findings are the result of GfK’s consumer panel, in which around 30,000 heads of household report on their purchases and regularly answer questions on their opinions each year. After scientists in Stuttgart attracted much media attention in 2012 with their report that, statistically speaking, every person in Germany throws away the equivalent of 80kg of food per year, Germans have evidently become more discerning when deciding what to throw out and what can still be eaten. Buying less food to start with is one way of reducing the mountains of rubbish.

Not a matter of money

Attitudes toward buying food supplies are largely dependent on age and family size. The older generations are more often conscious of reducing the amount they buy to stock up. Whereas 47% of those aged under 40 and 48% of 40-59 age group work on the basis that “less is more” when it comes to buying groceries, this figure climbs to 58% for the “60 plus” generation. However, families with three or more hungry mouths to feed ordinarily need to have greater reserves in the home. In this respect, it’s no surprise that the lowest percentage of “reducers” is to be found in this category, at just 41%. This figure rises considerably for two-person households, with 53% exercising restraint in their grocery shopping. However, at 56%, people who live alone are the best at buying only what they need, when they need it.

It may come as a surprise, but financial motivations play a rather insignificant part in determining attitudes towards buying food supplies. There is no discernible trend in relation to perceived personal financial situation between Germans who stockpile groceries and those who prefer to reduce the amount they buy ahead. In actual fact, the latter are sometimes a little less price conscious as they steadfastly refuse to be seduced by cheap deals and special offers.

The environment and organic produce

So if it is not about money, what is the incentive for consumers to buy less produce in advance? The main motivation would appear to be striving towards a more sustainable form of consumption. Those who reduce the amount of supplies they buy ahead are more environmentally conscious and are more often fans of organic produce than their stockpiling counterparts. They are also committed to using fewer environmentally harmful products in their homes, spend more money on ‘green’ packaging and wash their laundry at low temperatures, helping to save extra energy in the process. These reducers also look out for sustainability seals and prefer to purchase organic products, which enables them to contribute towards climate protection. Finally, fairly traded products are also high on their agenda due to their regard for the working conditions during food production processes.

However, all this comes at a cost. Anyone serious about consuming in a more sustainable way must be willing to delve a little deeper in their pocket in order to buy organic or fair trade goods. Last but not least, three quarters of reducers state that they fundamentally believe in protecting the environment as a priority over a further strengthening of the economy. This equates to 8 percentage points more than in the comparative group.

My bread, your cheese: our dinner

Back to Berlin and the food sharing scheme. While the sweet woodruff jelly quickly found a new home, the tomato-salt and baby food were hanging around slightly longer. Food sharers don’t just donate their food, but sometimes even spend their free time together. Those who dread the propect of rustling up dinner for one can now arrange to meet with like-minded individuals to cook together in many towns and cities throughout Germany. Initiatives such as these definitely help reduce the amount of perfectly good food being thrown away. In the long-term they may also help precipitate a change of mentality in those who, as of now, would throw away leftovers without a second thought.

GfK Panel Services (Consumer Scan, consumer panel, 2013)
If you have any queries please contact Claudia Gaspar,  e-mail: hello@nim.org.