Bringing Evidence-Based Food Chain Solutions to Prevent and Reduce Food Waste Related to Marketing Standards

On a global level, about one third of all food ends up as waste and with it the fresh water, land, and labour used to produce it as well. Addressing food waste and loss can therefore be key to alleviating some of the main challenges in the current food system.

On a European level, tackling food waste and loss (FWL) holds great potential when it comes to redistributing surplus food to people in need (over 36 million EU citizens cannot afford a quality meal every second day)*, saving greenhouse gas emissions (about 6-8% of global emissions are caused due to food waste)** and avoiding market value loss (around €130 billion annually in the EU)***.

At early stages of the supply chain, especially at the interface of production and retail, certain product specifications can result in products being sorted out and becoming food loss or waste. Food marketing standards are rules that define the quality and appearance of products to make production more cost-efficient and meet the expectations of consumers.

A 2019 evaluation found that EU food marketing standards were potentially contributing to food waste (EU Commission 2019). These could include ‘aesthetic requirements’ (colour, shape, size, grading) for fresh fruit and vegetables, limits of water content in poultry, sell-by and best-before dates for eggs or minimum size requirements for fish. However, the impact of marketing standards on FW is unclear, as existing information is limited and contradictory. Changes to such standards to reduce FW may trigger side effects to other objectives. The Breadcrumb project will address these questions and will develop evidence-based food chain solutions to prevent and reduce food waste related to marketing standards. With this, the project aims to boost circularity and deliver climate benefits.

The project will examine five food commodities (fruits & vegetables, meat, eggs, cereals and fish) in 16 multi-actor case studies involving food businesses, research and innovation (R&I) organisations, civil society organisations (CSOs), sectorial associations and consumers across Europe. The aim is to develop a better understanding when, why and to what extent marketing standards lead to food waste.

As a precondition to generating more insights about the functioning of marketing standards, the project team will prepare an inventory of private and EU member state marketing standards and build an empirical evidence base to generate estimates of FW caused by marketing standards. Thereby, insights on the trade-offs between food waste reduction and other objectives will be gained enabling the modelling of the underlying mechanisms of food waste. This will serve as a basis for developing a proposal to re-balance existing standards and improve market access for suboptimal food that is otherwise safe to eat. Finally, the gained results will be structured into operational and policy guidance for the prevention and reduction of food waste.

In partnership with the organic wholesaler Lehmann Natur, the CSCP will conduct the German case study in the fruit and vegetable sector. The CSCP will be involved in the collection of private and public marketing standards as well as of related food waste estimates, the generation of alternative solutions for marketing standards balancing trade-offs, and the improvement of acceptance and segmentation for suboptimal food as well as upscaling innovations.

The CSCP contributes to the Breadcrumb project with its combined expertise on food waste gained in projects such as the Dialogue Forum, REFRESH, REIF and CHORIZO. With Breadcrumb, the CSCP aims to further position the question of marketing standards-driven food waste and loss in Germany, improve consumer preferences towards non-aesthetic products, and contribute toward changing marketing standards leading to FLW.

The BREADCRUMB consortium consists of 21 participants from 8 EU countries. The project is funded by the EU Horizon research and innovation program and will run over 3 years (January 2024- December 2026).

*EUROSTAT (2020) Income and Living Conditions Database

**UNEP Food Waste Index Report 2021

***EU Commission