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Suboptimal food, careless store? Consumer's associations with stores selling foods with imperfections to counter food waste in the context of an emerging retail market

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Food waste is a major barrier to a sustainable society. Cleaner production is most effectively approached by amongst others avoiding waste. A lot of food waste is due to consumer perception of sub-optimality of foods, and supermarkets can offer ‘imperfect’ products to consumers at a reduced price in order to fight food waste. However, little is known about how this is perceived by consumers and whether it backfires as negative associations about the store, this is particularly under-researched for consumers in the global south. An online experimental survey was conducted in Uruguay to qualitatively explore consumer's associations with stores selling suboptimal food, and to quantitatively compare the associations generated by three types of sub-optimality. Findings revealed that associations were related to four main dimensions. Consumers majorly thought of which retail practices and personnel behaviour cause the sub-optimality and the relationship between consumers and company, as well as which signal the products send, and whether or not they consider choiceof the item. Few positive associations were mentioned. However, they emerged more often for fresh produce suboptimal in appearance, particularly when price is reduced, and among deal prone consumers. Associations on relationship and signal were primarily negative and in reaction to food with package damage. Associations on choice were more frequent for products nearing expiration date. Price reduction appeared to send a mixed signal to consumers. Results suggest that retailers should improve their overall image and communicate their precise reason for offering suboptimal food, in order to avoid a negative impact on store image.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121252
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Associations, Consumer behaviour, Food waste, Qualitative, Retail, Store image

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