Food loss and waste occurs throughout the entire supply chain from raw materials at the farming stage to harvesting, processing and storage as well as food that is left unfinished or thrown out in restaurants and homes.

Food loss occurs from supply chain mismanagement, consumer behaviour, and perceptions about food beauty standards.

An estimated one-third of global food supplies go to waste every year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO ), food loss and waste costs at least US$ 750 billion each year with an estimated 17 percent being wasted at retail and consumer levels.

Food loss and waste is also not just a matter of losing food from consumption but it has ripple effects on the environment, economy, food security and nutrition.

Due to its impact on food security, discussions around food loss and waste have gained increased traction especially among policy makers and international development agencies.

Food loss at the Think20 Summit

Last year, SEI Asia together with the Commission for Sustainable Agriculture Intensification, and International Water Management Institute engaged with the Think20 Summit on addressing food security and sustainable agriculture. The resulting Think20 policy brief highlights the importance of integrating food circularity concept and behavioural insights into policy intervention efforts for food loss and waste reduction. The brief has also served as input into policy proposals for the G20 country members under the Indonesian presidency in 2022.

But the question remains whether efforts at policy advocacy including educational and  awareness campaigns that provide information are being successful enough to halt food loss and waste.

In theory, education can enable behavioural change through deliberative thinking i.e., we know better hence we make better decisions. However, most of our routine actions rely on an automatic system of thinking which means that most of our ‘decisions’ are really just ingrained habits. This is especially true for our food consumption: constrained by various factors from lack of time to daily routines, we make habitual decisions on when, what and where we eat making our eating behaviour often repetitive and not prone to deliberative thinking.

Consequently, educational campaigns that focus only on increasing information and knowledge often may not create positive behavioural changes as they are more appropriate for deliberative system thinking rather than habitual modes of living.

Understanding the needs of the audience is a critical factor. Behavioural campaigns should go beyond merely raising awareness to focus on the “behavioural insights” of the audiences. Campaigns need to understand: who is the audience, what types of messages are well received, where the effective points of interventions are, and how to remove the barriers preventing actions.

How can all this be accomplished?

Social marketing tools

Campaigns can utilise social marketing tools or marketing techniques to improve the effectiveness of social communication programs. This comprises the strategic marketing mix of product, price, place, and promotion (4Ps). Despite having similar principles, social marketing tools aim to lift the success rate in translating knowledge possession into real action in social interventions instead of aiming only at increased sales or profits.


In social marketing, “product ” is the desired behaviour and the social benefit stemming from it. This desired behaviour is set as the goal of the behavioural campaign. For instance, the desired action could be that consumers embrace and are willing to purchase funny-looking shapes of food or fresh produce that deviate away from the usual standards of perfectly shaped and packaged food.


Price is the cost that audiences incur to adopt the desired behaviour as it is seen as a barrier to prevent action. It could be either a physical or mental barrier. The campaigns therefore need to ensure that the offered benefits exceed, or are at least equivalent, to the costs so the consumer has an incentive to undertake changes in their behaviour.

For example, the “Great Taste Less Waste Selection ”  campaign from FairPrice in Singapore offers discounted prices for items left unsold due to blemishes and bruises. This campaign has rescued at least 90 percent of unsold fruit from supermarkets and restaurants. In Bangkok, the Yindii application serves as an online food market place to sell high-quality food surplus from stores and restaurants at the discounted price. This platform has rescued >20,000 meals that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the day.


Place, either physical or online, refers to where the consumer performs or thinks about the action being promoted. This concept has been adopted by the “Love Food Hate Waste “ campaign where an alert is sent to users who are about to purchase any duplicates of ingredients at the supermarket.

In the Rimi supermarket, the “Consume Food Wisely” campaign’s prominent poster says “each 10th shopping bag bought in Estonia ends up in trash” catching the attention of consumers. Another great example is the “Chula Zero Waste ”campaign at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Posters are placed in front of the food shops in student canteens requesting students to order the portion of rice that matches their appetite.

Supermarket in Talinn

Consume Food Wisely Campaign: the poster in Rimi supermarket reminds buyers that the food content of each 10th shopping bag bought in Estonia ends up in the trash. Photo: SEI Talinn.


Chula Zero Waste Campaign : the poster in student canteens requests consumers to ensure they don’t order more than they can eat. Graphic: Chulalongkorn University.

Advertisement at the canteen

Photo: Pimolporn Jintarith / SEI Asia.


Promotion is not only about sales promotion but should be the voice of the campaign that acts to persuade the audience to change their behaviour or take action. It may involve educational information to raise awareness and drive behavioural action. The campaigns “Imperfect: Redefining Beauty in Produce ” or “Ugly Produce is Beautiful ” have attempted to educate consumers to embrace the natural shapes of fresh produce with their message contradicting the food’s cosmetic standard.

While behavioural interventions to raise public awareness play a crucial role in the fight against food loss and waste, they need to be more strategic about it. Social marketing approaches can be one way to improve these interventions and make them more effective in shifting public behaviour in a way that conforms to food loss and waste reduction goals.


The piece is from SEI Asia’s with the Think20 (T20) under the Task Force 4: Food Security & Sustainable Agriculture, the official engagement group of the Group of Twenty (G20) for think tanks and academics under the 2022 Indonesian presidency.