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Kiwis throwing away less of their grocery spend, but $3.2 billion of wasted food still ending up in the bin

Kiwis are wasting less of their food than they were a year ago, but food waste continues to be a major problem for Aotearoa with the estimated value of wasted food continuing to rise, the 2023 Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste survey has found.

The survey – undertaken in late July and early August – found the average New Zealand household reported wasting 12.2 per cent of the food they bought each week – back from 13.4 per cent in the 2022 survey. Despite this, the value of food wasted per household remained relatively unchanged ($1,510 from $1,520 last year) due to higher food prices, while New Zealand’s overall food waste bill continued to climb reaching $3.2 billion (up 2.6 per cent) as a result of more households.

At $3.2 billion, the value of New Zealand’s food waste is equivalent to the total cost required to feed approximately 688,000 Kiwis for an entire year.

Rabobank partnered with food rescue charity KiwiHarvest in early 2020, as part of the bank’s wider commitment to work alongside its rural customers to support sustainable food production and its global vison around global food security. Rabobank has commissioned research examining Kiwis’ food waste habits since 2017, with the three most recent editions of the research (2021, 2022 & 2023) in collaboration with KiwiHarvest.

1Based on national claimed average of annual food spend per household, national claimed average of annual food wasted per household, national average number of individuals per household, and the number of New Zealand households.

Food waste

Food waste behaviours and attitudes largely unchanged

Rabobank New Zealand Head of Sustainable Business Development Blake Holgate said it was pleasing to see the estimated percentage of food waste fall in the latest survey, despite only marginal change in Kiwis’ food waste attitudes and reported behaviours across the last year.

“Our assumption was that high food price inflation across the last 12 months might have driven some bigger changes in food waste behaviours and attitudes, but the survey results show these were largely comparable to 2022,” he said.

The survey found the key reasons for wasting food continued to be ‘food going off before you can finish it’ (50 per cent) and ‘before use by and best before dates” (32 per cent), while the major food waste concerns remained ‘cost’ (74 per cent) and ‘feelings of guilt that other people around New Zealand going without’ (35 per cent).

The types of foods being wasted were also in line with 2022, with vegetables (38 per cent), bread (29 per cent) and fruit (25 per cent) continuing to hold the top three spots on the list.

 

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What’s driven the drop?

While survey results were broadly consistent with last year, KiwiHarvest founder Deborah Manning said improvements in a few key areas have helped drive the small drop in estimated food waste.

“One of the major positives in the survey findings was that more Kiwis are now correctly defining what is meant by a best-before food label (63 per cent versus 57 per cent previously),” she said.

“And this flowed through to a sizeable lift in the number of people saying they routinely eat food after best-before dates (18 per cent compared to 13 per cent previously) when the food is not damaged or perished.”

The survey also found more than four times as many Kiwis thought their household had decreased food waste over the last 12 months (36 per cent), compared to those saying it had increased (seven per cent).

“And among those Kiwis saying their food waste had fallen, better planning (55 per cent), eating leftovers (50 per cent), and buying less food (46 per cent) were the three major drivers cited for this change,” Ms Manning said.

This was all encouraging, Mr Holgate said, but there remained plenty of scope for New Zealanders to further improve their food waste behaviours.

“While the 2023 survey found food waste was lower than in 2022, it’s important to note last year’s survey saw the highest estimated food waste (13.4 per cent) we’ve seen across any of the food waste surveys Rabobank have conducted over the last six years,” he said.

“And this year’s estimated food waste – at 12.2 per cent – is still well above the low of 8.6 per cent recorded in the 2021.

“Given this, it’s absolutely vital that, as a country, we continue to place a strong focus on educating the public about the negative financial and environmental impacts of food waste.

“We know it won’t be easy – especially given Kiwis’ level of commitment to living a sustainable lifestyle has dropped off in recent years2 – but we’re committed to working alongside KiwiHarvest and others to provide the public with information that helps them reduce food waste in the home.”

2KANTAR 2023 Better Futures Report

 

 

Media Release - Food Waste - Best Before Stickers

Inspiring the next generation

Ms Manning said improving the food waste habits of younger New Zealanders was one obvious priority area, given this group continued to waste significantly more than their counterparts in older generations.

“This year, we did see a significant improvement in the estimated food waste of those surveyed in Gen Z (aged 18-26) with this dropping to 19.2 per cent from the eye-watering 28.2 per cent recorded last year,” she said.

"However, they were still by far the biggest food wasters of any age group.”

The survey found Gen Y (aged 27-40) wasted an estimated 16.5 per cent of their weekly food spend with the number falling to 10.8 per cent for Gen X (aged 41-54) and 6.9 per cent for Baby Boomers (aged 55+).

“Some of the positive trends within the Gen Z age group to emerge from this survey include more saying they know ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a bit’ about food production (83 per cent versus 76 per cent last year), while fewer people in this group said they had thrown away food without having tried or eaten it in the last 12 months (59 per cent from 66 per cent previously),” Ms Manning said.

“But on the flip side, we do continue to see those in Gen Z flagging poor knowledge about how to prepare and store food as key reasons for why they waste food.”

Mr Holgate said this lack of basic kitchen knowledge among younger people was one of the key reasons Rabobank had teamed up with food education charity Garden to Table earlier this year.

“Garden to Table works with close to 300 primary and intermediate schools across New Zealand empowering nearly 30,000 tamariki to grow, harvest, prepare and share great food,” he said.

“Reducing food waste is also covered as part of the programme and Garden to Table will soon release a new curriculum resource that empowers students to take action to further reduce food waste at school and at home. The new resource highlights the numbers behind the food waste problem using some of the data from our latest survey and then lets students explore practical ways to take positive action every day.”

Splitting the survey data by other demographic groupings, the survey found males estimated less food waste than in 2022 (13.7 per cent from 16.5 per cent previously), but they still estimated they waste more than their female counterparts (10.8 per cent). Urban-based New Zealanders (13.6 per cent) estimated they wasted more than those in rural areas (9.1 per cent).

 

Media Release - Food Waste - Annual Household Waste

Climate change an increasing concern

The survey found ‘landfill’ continued to be the most commonly-cited impact of food waste (nominated by 63 per cent of respondents), while there was also a significant jump in the number of Kiwis identifying ‘climate change’ as an impact (31 per cent from 25 per cent previously).

“This shift is likely to be largely attributable to the extreme weather events we’ve seen across many parts of the country this year, and which have elevated climate change as a concern among New Zealanders,” Ms Manning said.

“When asked to rank the impacts of food waste they cared about the most, climate change was also much closer to the top of the list in this survey.

“And, as a result, further amplification of the connection between food waste and climate change is something that we’ll be considering in future messaging aimed at addressing the food waste challenge.”

About the Survey

Rabobank partnered with KiwiHarvest in 2020 as part of the bank’s wider commitment to work alongside its rural customers to support sustainable food production and its global vison around global food security. The Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste Survey was first conducted in April 2021, with the findings released in June of that year. The 2023 Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste survey was administered by independent research agency KANTAR and involved interviews with 1501 New Zealanders between July 25 and August 14, 2023. Data collection was nationally representative to ensure that results could be used to measure New Zealanders attitudes and behaviours.

 

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 120 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of about 10 million clients worldwide through a network of close to 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of the country's leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the New Zealand food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 32 offices throughout New Zealand.

Media contacts:

David Johnston
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 04 819 2711 or 027 477 8153
Email: david.johnston@rabobank.com


Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +612 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525 
Email: denise.shaw@rabobank.com