December 12, 2017

Drexel study: People might prefer food made from trash

If you were served food made from ingredients that were otherwise headed for the trash can, would you eat it? You might, according to a Drexel University study.

But the joint research led by three Drexel professors found that the marketing behind the product would have to convince us, first.

A news release from the university underscored how much food that American households toss in the trash each year – some 80 billion pounds. Researchers argued that edible produce is sometimes deemed unsightly for grocery displays and thrown out, and many ingredients are tossed away during manufacturing.

Along with three graduate students, professors Jonathan Deutsch, Hasan Ayaz and Rajneesh Suri wanted to explore whether foods made from excess ingredients – termed value-added surplus products – could give some relief to the global food crisis.

But, as the Drexel release noted, would the average consumer be willing to buy and eat food made from already used ingredients or produce deemed unfit for the grocery store?

In an effort to find out, researchers used three common cues that we typically use when deciding what to eat: the product's description, labeling and any benefits for us or others.

A group of study participants felt that "value-added surplus products" would be more helpful to the environment than conventional foods (but less so than organic foods), the study showed.

Participants also affirmed that eating value-added products will generate greater benefits to others than themselves, and the name "Upcycled" was the most preferred label among choices that included "recycled," "upscaled," "rescaled," "reprocessed," "reclaimed," "up-processed," "resorted" and "rescued."

"There is an economic, environmental and cultural argument for keeping food, when possible, as food and not trash," Deutsch said in a statement. "Converting surplus foods into value-added products will feed people, create opportunities for employment, entrepreneurship and lower the environmental impact of wasted resources."

Drexel's release described the findings as "positive" and suggesting strong potential for consumer acceptance of food made from waste ingredients.

In another statement, Suri added that value-added surplus food could sell for a pretty penny, too.

"Depending upon how you communicate such products, they might also be able to fetch a price premium, like those afforded to organic foods," Suri said.

The study, published in The Journal of Consumer Behavior, can be found here.