The quintessential Brazilian food pair – rice and beans – accounts for approximately 38 percent of all the food going to the rubbish bin in Brazil. These findings are part of a survey of 1,764 households from various walks of life and from all regions of Brazil, commissioned by the European Union–Brazil Sector Dialogues Facility under a project led by Embrapa and supported by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).
The ranking for the most wasted food items features rice (22%), beef (20%), beans (16%) and chicken (15%) with the highest percentage of total wastage based on the sample collected for the survey. The detailed survey data will be presented at the “International Seminar on food losses and wastage in agrifood supply chains: opportunities for public policies,” at Embrapa's headquarters in Brasilia, DF, on Thursday.
“The average Brazilian household is wasting even expensive and protein-rich food items in relatively large amounts, such as beef and chicken, which comes as a surprise to us,” says Carlos Eduardo Lourenço, a professor of marketing with the FGV’s Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (EAESP).
Reasons for wastage according to the researchers include Brazilian consumers fondness of good taste and plentifulness. Failure to put leftovers to good is the primary factor for rice and beans going to waste, experts say.
Buy a lot, will waste more
Another relevant insight from the survey is that 43 percent of people agree that “people they know throw food away regularly,” but when it comes to their own behaviour this is not a significant issue. Findings showed that 61 percent of families usually do one big monthly grocery shopping, which makes it more likely for them to purchase unnecessary items.
A previous survey conducted by Embrapa has already pointed out that Brazil's habit of going for one large-scale monthly shopping trip leads to food wastage, especially when that the shopping spree is coupled with poor meal planning. “We observed some contradictory behaviours among consumers. While 94 percent of respondents claim that it's important to avoid food wastage, 59 percent do not care if there is too much food on the table or in the pantry,” says Gustavo Porpino, an analyst with Embrapa and project leader with the Sector Dialogues Facility.
Porpino reveals that most households (68%) find it very important to have a pantry and refrigerator filled with food. “Having a continuously stocked pantry is a cultural trait of a significant number of Brazilian households, especially when it comes to the lower middle class, where this is a necessity because food groceries are a priority in the household budget. This new survey corroborates previous findings that this preference for plenty is a driver of food wastage,” he says.
The survey data show that Brazil needs to take action along various links in the chain to avoid food losses and wastage. Nutritional outreach and education actions are key to raise awareness and connect consumers with food, as well as technologies and technical skills to reduce losses of food in the ground,“ says Porpino.
Porpino explains that the National Strategy to Combat Food Losses and Wastage that has recently been approved by the Interministerial Chamber of Food and Nutrition Security (Caisan) adopts a broader approach that involves four pillars – research and innovation; outreach and training; public policy; and regulations. “There is a strong assumption that we also need to engage directly with end consumers,” says Porpino, who believes that the survey provides inputs to this and other initiatives in Brazil.
The culture of plenty
The survey began with a qualitative phase where 62 consumers were interviewed in supermarkets, convenience stores and street markets. Data collection involved a group of European post-graduate students from the Universities of Bocconi (Italy), St Gallen (Switzerland), Vienna (Austria), and Groningen (The Netherlands). The goal was to look at the food buying and consumption habits of Brazilians from a European perspective.
“The Europeans were astonished at the amount of food Brazilians purchase. Shopping visits reported as weekly would be enough to feed their families for about a month. At convenience stores, where you usually purchase just a few items, the shopping carts were huge and were easily filled. This fondness of a lavish table is a major factor of increased food wastage,” stresses Lourenço, from FGV.
In the second phase of the survey, a panel covering over 600 thousand Brazilian consumers was used. After a screening stage, 3,000 people were selected from all over the country, and 1,764 of these participated in the first quantitative phase of the survey. Of the respondents, 638 households also participated in the completion of a food diary, which included data on wasted quantities and photos of the food going to the bin.
At this stage, it emerged that Brazilians are more concerned about the taste and appearance of food than about eating healthy or low-calorie foods. “Our cuisine is diverse and tasty, which should be appreciated; but this gastronomic frenzy is worrying since it leads to wastage,” says Lourenço.
The consumers submitted pictures of their eating habits for up to seven days, reporting data on wastage in food preparation and consumption, especially at lunch and dinner. This methodology was adapted from a study conducted in the Netherlands by researcher Erica van Herpen, from the University of Wageningen.
“We selected people who were also responsible for purchasing and preparing their meals at home. We kept track of everything through photos. We were astonished to see that households throw lots of food away. It is relatively common to squander half a pot of rice between one meal and the next,” says Lourenço.
Finally, in the third phase of the survey a web scrapping action was carried out with the aid of a robot, that is, a thorough survey of data on blogs and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, in order to evaluate how food wastage as a topic was treated on-line in recent months.
The findings indicated that 75 percent of this subject is dealt with by public and private organisations; there is little involvement of individuals. “Food wastage is still a taboo subject among individuals. We need to consider outreach strategies to raise awareness and engage the public in this cause,” says Lourenço.
Engagement of the European Union
“Fighting food wastage means working together with all key stakeholders in the public and private sectors to better identify, measure, understand and find solutions to this problem. There is no such thing as a single cause with a solution because the food supply chain is a complex and dynamic system. All actors in the food supply chain need to collaborate to find solutions,” says European Union ambassador to Brazil João Gomes Cravinho.
The EU-funded cooperative action on combating food wastage brought together Embrapa, the Ministry of Social Development (MDS), and WWF Brazil, and the relevant counterparts in several European countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. “These contacts, exchanges of experiences and recently this study with Brazilian households reflect significant progress in the design of improved public policies, strategies and practical actions in the fight against food wastage," said Ambassador Cravinho.
*Data by Embrapa’s Press Office
Photo: Catálogo iStok
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