Timely intervention

Posted: 15 June 2021 | | No comments yet

Bethan Grylls interviews Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President at Hellmann’s, to find out how behaviour and technology can play a major role in the food waste battle.

Canada food waste initiative

Nine hundred million tonnes of food waste is disposed of each year, with 60 percent occurring in the home. Estimates suggest that between eight and 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to wasted food.1 Unilever has been quite vocal on its commitment to transform the world’s food system as part of its Future Food Strategy and one element of this is a goal to reduce food waste. New Food spoke to Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President at Hellmann’s, a global Unilever brand, to find out how a combination of technology and psychology can help alleviate the issue of food waste.

“One doesn’t necessarily need sophisticated technology to make a real difference,” Bauer-Plank noted, “we find the disciplined application of ‘target’, ‘measure’ and ‘act’ to be much more effective and apply this ethos across our entire operation.”

She explained that this method enables a business to begin to measure and understand where food waste is occurring and subsequently allows one to implement specific targets and plans in these areas.

“Food waste often goes unseen – it’s undervalued and hidden; by bringing it to the fore and making it transparent you have a real springboard for change.”

Unilever publicly reports its footprint and progress each year, which Bauer-Plank said the company believes is the only way to “make real progress” as it allows for comparability and benchmarking. Despite Bauer-Plank acknowledging that progress doesn’t require complex technology, like most things it can benefit from some form of tech-enabler. Unilever’s comes in the form of big data and AI, which facilitates stock analysis for age and residual shelf-life, and predictive analytics enables timely action to be taken by the company, ie, before food expires.

Another way technology helps the company and its customers alleviate waste is via Orbisk – a smart camera and scale. “Every time food is thrown, the camera assesses what type of food is being discarded, while the smart scale weighs the quantity of waste,” she explained. “The time of day and type of food are recorded, among other data.” In this way, food service operators are able to assess whether there are any reoccurring patterns and can take meaningful action.

“While food waste occurs across the whole food chain, the majority happens in consumers’ homes. As a leading brand, we have the opportunity – and a responsibility – to help people recognise this issue and make a change,” Bauer-Plank added.

One such avenue for attempting to assist consumers is through packaging innovation; many brands, including Hellmann’s, have moved away from non-recyclable materials, but the really clever change Hellmann’s has made is through internal lubrication of its squeezy packs. By lightly coating the inside of its mayonnaise bottle with pure vegetable oil, the brand has allowed its product to slide out more easily meaning that a lot less product is left behind.

While food waste occurs across the whole food chain, the majority happens in consumers’ homes

The company has also been investigating the psychology behind food waste at home and a recent Canadian study it commissioned unveiled some interesting results. “No one sets out aiming to throw good food in the bin, so we wanted to understand the triggers at play and what interventions could be made to impact behaviour in a positive way,” Bauer-Plank told New Food.

Canada is one of the worst food waste offenders, with nearly two-thirds of food thrown away still being edible – this is costing the Canadian household around CAD$1,100 annually.2

In the study, participants were asked to commit to one ’Use-Up Day’ per week, whereby they made meals with ingredients they already had in their kitchens. To support the participants, Hellmann’s devised a ‘3+1 approach’ in which meals are based upon three categories: a base (eg, pasta, rice, bread), a veg or fruit, optional protein, and a spice or sauce to add flavour. Additionally, participants were given inspiration in the form of flexible recipes (coined ‘flexipes’) which followed the 3+1 approach and included ideas for using up commonly wasted ingredients, such as lettuce, apples and potatoes.

Using these methods, the participants reduced their reported food waste by a third and 71 percent stated they’d saved money during the experiment. Eight weeks post-study completion, eight in ten participants continued to create a use-up meal. If all households with children in Canada adopted this approach, the amount of food waste saved would be in the region of 250 million kg every year. With the success of the study, Hellmann’s intends to build the programme into a digital experience, which it will roll out globally.

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