The Squander Sequence: Understanding Food Waste at Each Stage of the Consumer Decision-Making Process

Lauren G. Block, Punam A. Keller, Beth Vallen, Sara Williamson, Mia M. Birau, Amir Grinstein, Kelly L. Haws, Monica C. LaBarge, Cait Lamberton, Elizabeth S. Moore, Emily M. Moscato, Rebecca Walker Reczek, and Andrea Heintz Tangari
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Key Takeaways

​Established behavioral theories can shed light on the reasons why so much food is wasted at the hands of the consumer.

This knowledge can inform interventions at the individual or community level for reducing food waste.

The “squander sequence” describes how food is wasted along the consumption pattern at preacquisition, at acquisition, at consumption, and at disposition.

Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing​

In this research, we rely on insights from behavioral science to identify the psychological drivers of food waste throughout the “squander sequence”—that is, food wasted during the preacquisition, acquisition, consumption, and disposition stages of consumer decision making.


Research Question

One-third of our edible global food supply goes uneaten. Most of this food waste occurs at the hands of consumers, particularly in Westernized societies. While ample research has provided “best practices” for reducing household waste, consumer-level waste has continued to rise. We set forth a research agenda to examine the intersection of public policy and established behavioral theories to explain how and why edible food is wasted, often nonconsciously, along a food consumption pattern termed “the squander sequence.”

Methods

We review relevant literature from the behavior sciences to identify the psychological underpinnings of food waste at the hands of the consumer.

Findings

The article provides a conceptual framework through which researchers can associate consumer wastefulness with established psychological theories to inform their own theorizing about food waste and its interventions. Importantly, we draw attention to the role of public policy in curbing behaviors that result in wasted food. We also provide a series of suggested research questions to move the agenda forward.


 Figure 1: The Squander Sequence

 

Figure 2 . Major Sources of Food Loss: From Agricultural Production Through the Squander Sequence
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Implications

The general public can benefit from the spotlight this work places on consumer psychology in the realm of food waste. By drawing attention to the psychological underpinnings of why and how consumers may unintentionally waste food, policy makers, managers, and researchers can reframe their own approach to understanding and reducing waste. Institutions that provide food to vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, might find this and future work to be particularly useful, as wasted food is wasted nutrition.


Questions for the Classroom

  • How often do you actively think about food waste while choosing, preparing, consuming, or disposing of your food?

  • How do you decide when to throw food away versus utilize it for another purpose? Is it a matter of habit, effort, hunger, or maybe even a rule of thumb?

  • Reflect on the instances in past when you have wasted food—how could public policies motivate consumers like you to establish waste-reducing behaviors?


Article Citation

Lauren G. Block, Punam A. Keller, Beth Vallen, Sara Williamson, Mia M. Birau, Amir Grinstein, Kelly L. Haws, Monica C. LaBarge, Cait Lamberton, Elizabeth S. Moore, Emily M. Moscato, Rebecca Walker Reczek, and Andrea Heintz Tangari (2016), "The Squander Sequence: Understanding Food Waste at Each Stage of the Consumer Decision-Making Process," Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 35 (2), 170-184.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jppm.15.132​

Lauren G. Block is Lippert Professor of Marketing, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College (e-mail: lauren.block@baruch.cuny.edu).

Punam A. Keller is Associate Dean for Innovation and Growth and Charles Henry Jones Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College (e-mail: punam.a.keller@tuck.dartmouth.edu).

Beth Vallen is Diana & Thomas Klein Associate Professor of Marketing, Villanova University (e-mail: beth.vallen@villanova.edu).

Sara Williamson is Assistant Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University (e-mail: swilliam@sju.edu).

Mia M. Birau is a PhD candidate in marketing, Grenoble Ecole de Management (e-mail: mia.birau@grenoble-em.com).

Amir Grinstein is Associate Professor of Marketing, Northeastern University and VU Amsterdam (e-mail: a.grinstein@neu.edu, a.grinstein@vu.nl).

Kelly L. Haws is Associate Professor of Marketing and Chancellor’s Faculty Fellow, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University (e-mail: kelly.haws@owen.vanderbilt.edu).

Monica C. LaBarge is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Smith School of Business, Queen’s University (e-mail: monica.labarge@queensu.ca).

Cait Lamberton is Associate Professor and Ben L. Fryrear Fellow in Marketing, Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh (e-mail: clamberton@katz.pitt.edu).

Elizabeth S. Moore is Associate Professor of Marketing, Mendoza School of Business, University of Notre Dame (e-mail: emoore@nd.edu).

Emily M. Moscato is Assistant Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University (e-mail: emoscato@sju.edu).

Rebecca Walker Reczek is Associate Professor of Marketing, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University (e-mail: reczek.3@osu.edu).

Andrea Heintz Tangari is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Mike Ilitch School of Business, Wayne State University (e-mail: andrea.tangari@wayne.edu).



Author Bio:

 
Lauren G. Block, Punam A. Keller, Beth Vallen, Sara Williamson, Mia M. Birau, Amir Grinstein, Kelly L. Haws, Monica C. LaBarge, Cait Lamberton, Elizabeth S. Moore, Emily M. Moscato, Rebecca Walker Reczek, and Andrea Heintz Tangari
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