Food and packaging waste are the main contributors to the environmental footprint of the food industry. Consumers have become more active in their support to minimize food waste and to take advantage of biodegradable or minimal packaging options. While many consumers eat “root to stem” and “nose to tail” at their tables, they also want to support companies that share the same values. Around a third of the food produced in the world is wasted, reaching epidemic levels.
Manufacturers are finding new ways to rework a product that doesn't meet specifications instead of simply discarding it. For example, broken rice grains that are not suitable for sale as is can be ground to create rice flour. Misinformation about food production methods has very real consequences for human health. A study of low-income shoppers revealed that they were wary of buying conventionally produced fruits and vegetables for safety reasons.
This inaccurate information on the levels and health impacts of pesticide residues in products has been widely disseminated on social media. As a result, low-income consumers said they were less likely to buy conventional products and would prefer to buy smaller quantities of the more expensive organic varieties. Since the food industry depends on and responds to consumer needs, understanding consumer thresholds will allow us to predict what and how the industry will evolve. The fundamental role that the food industry can play in bringing nutrient-rich, sustainably sourced food to most consumers cannot be overemphasized, especially when considering the influence that the food industry can have on the entire supply chain.
The HPS food sufficiency element asks about food consumed at home in the past 7 days to assess rapid changes in food sufficiency. The modeling of food systems; food labeling and market development; food access, affordability and security; and the distributional consequences of food policy. In addition, the recent pandemic highlighted the fragility of the food supply when the accessibility and affordability of food became major concerns. The USDA and ERS food price perspectives record changes in the consumer price index (CPI) for food at home and away from home.
The food industry is in a unique position to help solve this challenge, as food production on a large scale makes it possible to produce food at a lower cost. This commentary will focus on the challenges and opportunities for the food industry and its partners to offer a sustainable supply of nutrient-rich foods while meeting consumer expectations. Consumers are also concerned about the safety of the food they eat, especially domestic rice and other food crops that may have been grown on contaminated agricultural soils. Origin and quantity of food waste in the United States, identifying opportunities for food manufacturers to help retailers and consumers reduce their waste (ReFed).
Agricultural scalability and profitability offer the possibility of having positive impacts on food supply chains, which translates into sustainable and affordable food. Addressing sustainable food cost issues may be the most effective way to boost the adoption of sustainable food options for consumers. In addition to improving identification and familiarity with foods that are produced sustainably, the food industry needs to better understand the obstacles, perceived or real, that prevent consumers from adopting more sustainable diets. For example, consumer perception may be based on the belief that sustainably produced foods are “organic” and the consumer experience with organic foods is that they cost more.
Through a variety of data products, the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) monitors the effects of the pandemic on food spending, food prices and food sufficiency. By supporting farmer-led education and the assessment of ecosystem and economic benefits, the food industry can further accelerate the adoption of regenerative agriculture to drive positive change in food systems.