UTIA Researchers Target Food Loss and Waste Reduction

COVID-19 Effects on Consumer and Grocer Behaviors Included in Study

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Research suggests that 40% of food produced in the U.S. is lost or wasted, while approximately one in eight households experiences food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, creating uncertainty at the retail level of the food supply chain, potentially altering food shopping and inventory management practices.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture have received a $423,316 grant to study food loss and waste reduction at the consumer-grocery retailer interface. Study results regarding consumer and retailer attitudes toward food loss and waste reduction programs could aid in future programming design.

In 2016, USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a voluntary program with a goal of reducing food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. However, the program does not include third-party monitoring and certification or provide participants with a formalized means of promoting their efforts to consumers. UTIA researchers are studying the response of consumers and retailers to these potential additional program measures. Grant funding is provided by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which provides leadership and funding for programs that advance agriculture-related sciences.

While the food loss and waste reduction program has the potential to facilitate additional reductions in food loss and waste, the effectiveness of these additional program measures and how consumers and retailers respond to the information about certification has not been previously studied.

“This study will provide a results-driven set of recommendations for future voluntary food loss and waste reduction programs,” said UTIA professor of agricultural and resource economics and lead researcher Kimberly Jensen. “Findings will provide estimates of how food loss and waste information shapes consumers’ choices in products, stores and at-home practices.”

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic created supply chain uncertainties, likely increasing food loss and waste due to behavioral changes in consumers’ food shopping and retailers’ inventory management, which will also be assessed in this study.

The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association has agreed to participate in a key survey that gauges current practices of the food industry to mitigate food loss. Researchers will also use this information to identify opportunities to help Tennessee’s food industry reach food loss reduction goals.

Food loss and waste also create significant environmental impacts and comprise the single largest component of landfill waste. “While reducing food loss and waste offers an opportunity to reduce the associated environmental impacts, it also offers the opportunity to reduce food costs and food insecurity,” said Jensen.

The UTIA multidisciplinary research team include Kimberly Jensen, Karen DeLong, T. Edward Yu and Jackie Yenerall from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and C. Rita Chen and Curtis Luckett from the Department of Food Science.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.