We have identified 61 factors that are related to food waste during our interviews with stakeholders with a food supply chain perspective, a consumption perspective, and an NGO perspective. We present below the definitions of these factors in alphabetical order.
Factors Related to Food Waste
Alignment of Regulations with the Region: Food products that originate outside of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) are problematic and take a longer time to clear, more scrutinised. Consumers appear to find local products “safer” and more favourable. Therefore misalignment of regulations with the rest of the Gulf countries is related to food waste.
Amount of Food Supply in the Market: The basic economic principle is valid: Higher food supply lowers price while low supply increases prices. Although there are price regulations in Qatar, prices of some food are not regulated. Regardless of how much supply in the market, there is a cap on the price of certain food products.
Break in the Cold Chain: This is related to weather temperature and storage. High temperature in Qatar means that food products that are temperature-sensitive need to be kept at a constant optimal temperature as they are conveyed to the final destination of the sale to maintain their quality.
Buying Behaviour: Participants with a supply chain perspective referred to how products to be sold in Qatar are purchased: Most of the time in large quantities without taking into consideration the demand. Consumers also mentioned that not knowing what is in the fridge is likely to result in buying items that are not necessarily needed immediately. Most over-purchase was found to be associated with promotions, lack of planning and limited options for packaged products.
Catering Contracts: The way catering contracts are designed is sometimes related to food waste. Some catering contracts are on a fixed-sum basis; where the food service provider receives a fixed sum irrespective of what they serve. This sometimes results in lower quality ingredients being used in the food provided.
Commercial Decisions: Sometimes it may be commercially more cost efficient to discard food than to return it to sender or another market or donate it.
Competition: Competition is discussed in relation to promotions. High competition amongst sellers affects the quantity of sales and how much food is sold on promotion.
Consumer Actions in the Store: Consumers actions in the store are related to food waste in the following way: consumers may open certain products and leave them on the shelf; which then have to be discarded. They may also collect some chilled or frozen items, but then change their mind when they are in a different aisle and leave such products in ambient conditions, which then have to be discarded as they would not be fit for consumption having been removed from refrigerated area.
Consumer Awareness around Food: Awareness around food is related to food waste in terms of how much a person recognises the effort to grow, harvest, process, pack, distribute, and sell food products and how much a person is aware of people living in hunger.
Cooking Accidents: Cooking accidents were mentioned to be related to food waste with examples such as forgetting the food being cooked in the oven or spillages in the kitchen.
Coordination among Regulators: This factor refers to multiple authorities being responsible for food safety. Sometimes the lack of coordination among them is associated with inconsistencies in import documentations and rules. Such inconsistencies are sometimes embedded in bureaucracy and lead to delays in ports or product recalls and discards.
Cost of Food: Cost of food came up in relation to food waste with the following arguments: When people do not pay for the food they eat, for example in their working environment, they tend to take more than they eat. When importers pay a small amount for large quantities of food they tend to buy much more than needed. Then the relatively low cost of food results in almost no emphasis on how much is wasted or whether it could have been prevented.
Country of Origin of Consumer: Country of origin of the consumer was mentioned in relation to food waste as it appears to determine the consumer’s attitude towards food; ie whether they will waste less food (whilst some cultures encourage less waste) or more food (with culture encouraging wasting more food).
Country of Origin of Product: Locally grown products have less issues with port clearance, health regulations and other related factors and higher consumer trust in terms of consumption than imported products. Qatar being a high import dependent country, makes this choice a big challenge for consumers.
Cuisine Offered: Type of food available to people. Qatar has around 2.5 million expatriates and cuisine offered is linked to taste. Some people who don’t like the taste of a particular food would throw it away. The presence of expatriates creates a demand for different type of food products from different countries but the not all countries’ cuisines are available.
Culture: Depending on the person’s culture, their attitude towards waste differs. The cultures in question are Arab, Eastern, and Western in general.
Demand for Perfect-Looking Produce: Preference for well-shaped products is related to food waste as many consumers are expecting perfect-looking produce on the supermarket shelves. Suppliers and retailers mentioned the pressure from the consumers; consumers’ demand for perfect-looking produce results in otherwise consumable produce being discarded or not even being put on the shelf.
Demand Planning: There is a general lack of or good planning across multiple stakeholders in the supply side, in relation to purchasing, inventory planning, capacity planning or demand planning. Lack of planning results in mismatch of supply and demand, leading to food wastage when the market offers more than what is demanded by the customers. Nevertheless, on the consumption side demand planning is a relevant factor not only for restaurants and hotels as they offer open buffets and cater for events but also for consumers (not everybody has a grocery list and stick to it when they shop; difficulties with the quantities in particular when buying for someone else; people preferring to have more than needed over any possibilities of shortages).
Dining Out: With the advent of social networking people are eating out more than in the past. The unpredictability of eating at home or dinning out makes it impossible for some people to consume purchased products. There are several arguments: Because people are dining out; the food at home might be wasted; because people are dining out they may order more than they need or the portion size could be large; because the person dining out pays for the food they may be more cautious of food waste.
Employment Type: An argument was raised during our interviews that blue collar workers who perform manual labour were served lower quality food than white collar workers who perform professional, managerial, or administrative work; hence less food is wasted in the offices.
Events such as work dinners or weddings: Events such as parties, ceremonies, company dinners and celebrations were mentioned in the context of the hospitality. There would always be much more food than can be consumed by the guests to show how much the guests are valued by the hosts. More specifically when the person dinning out is not (necessarily) paying for the food, there is a likelihood of them being wasteful.
Expiry Date: For suppliers and distributors expiry dates are a major problem; in particular, the expiry dates for Qatar are different from the expiry dates for other Gulf countries and sometimes it is not possible to convince manufacturers produce products with different expiry dates. It is also not possible to put an expiry date on the product after it arrives in Qatar so if the expiry date is wrong then the product would be discarded. Expiry was mentioned in particular by restaurants; they would reject the food products delivered by suppliers if they are less than certain amount of shelf life. These food products that are otherwise fit for consumption would end up in land fill because it is less costly to destroy them than finding a secondary purpose for them.
Expiry Date Awareness: Moreover, some consumers would check the expiry dates and search for the freshest product in the market. Some consumers forget to check expiry date before purchasing the product while others don’t go through their stock to know which food products is nearing the expiry date until it is too late. When consumers check their food items irregularly, they find the expiry dates have passed and therefore discard the products. So awareness around expiry dates can help reduce the avoidable food waste.
Food Handling: Food handling may lead to food waste through the lack of knowledge of skills in the people handling the food. For example, the staff may not be aware at what temperature the food product should be kept. It could also be related to the lack of mechanical handling. Manual handling is slow and prone to error. Staff handling the products do not necessarily have the concept of “protecting the product” when they move it or store it.
Food Preparation: Food preparation is associated with food waste in terms of trimming, peeling and discarding parts that are unwanted by the consumers. For example, food waste happens in meat products when trimming fat or cutting meat into comparable sizes at a restaurant. Excess trimming of food products such as vegetables, meat, and fish leads to waste. Some people use some of the trimmings for stock while others simply discard the trimmings.
Food Prepared and Served: The quantity of food prepared and served is important for caterers and normally controlled through better planning and communication. Sometimes the lack of coordination leads to cooking more than needed or different from specifications.
Food Product Type: Type of product purchased determines the amount of waste. Fresh produce leads to higher waste if not properly stored while dry or frozen produce are connected with lower waste. The three broad food product types are ambient (dry), fresh (chilled), and frozen.
Fussy Eater: This is related to preferences of an individual towards food. Some people are rather picky in their choices while others enjoy a wide range of food. Families with children also highlighted this aspect as children’s preferences change over time and they are more selective than adults when it comes to food consumed. Parents therefore buy food that matches with the preferences of their children, but this may sometimes result in food waste.
Health and Safety Regulations: More stringent safety regulation means importers/food canteens/restaurants have to be cautious on food quality or they will be fined. Safety regulations are adhered to, but due to unforeseen circumstances, food products are discarded for the sake of consumers’ health and adherence to government regulation. In particular, the regulations around until when a food product can be displayed on the shelf (for example, some products should be taken off the shelf 1 month prior to expiry) are associated with food waste.
Household Size: Single households find it more challenging to buy and prepare food because of the larger package size of the food product while the package sizes might favour larger families, they pose a disadvantage to smaller sized or single person households.
Import Documentation: Missing or wrong import documentation disrupts the flow of goods and delays clearance of a consignment; this could result in destruction of food items that have short shelf life.
Import Regulations: Compliance with government regulations facilitates port clearance and save importers delays in the ports, where for importers new to the business the clearance of items could be delayed because of lack of experience. Nevertheless, both experienced and new importers highlighted that government regulations change frequently and it is not always easy to keep up with the changes.
Infestation: Infestation of pests and diseases such as those affect grains deteriorate the food quality. Such problems are aggravated by inadequate storage conditions and lead to food waste.
Labelling: Labelling is a major problem associated with food waste. Wrong labelling or missing expiry dates on the label would result in food being rejected at the port or collected for destruction from the market later.
Left-overs: Using left over food helps reduce the food waste. While some consumers have a use for left-overs, others simply don’t remember to reuse their food, hence throw food in the bin. Some say they had the intention to reuse food but then forget. Food waste therefore means translating the intention to action.
Location of Event: Lack of adequate infrastructure for serving food at events means some catering companies waste more food. Food served within premises with a fixed infrastructure means lower waste as temperature of the food is more controlled.
Minimum Order Quantity: Some buyers do not have the power to negotiate with their suppliers and are forced to buy quantities that they may not have the demand for. Then the minimum order quantity is another factor contributing to over-purchasing. The issues related to refrigeration, storage, transportation and stock control follow.
Open Buffet: Open buffets are suggested to increase food waste through the people’s attitude toward food. Because it is open buffet, people tend to overload their plates and do not eat everything afterwards. Since the cost of the food is fixed irrespective of how much is eaten, the waste resulting from unfinished plates may also be ignored.
Package Size: From the consumers’ point of view, packaging leads to waste as it forces the consumer to buy in predetermined quantities; often more than what the they would otherwise purchase. Such pre-packaging encourages quick flow of products for suppliers because larger quantities of product are sold.
Packaging: Food packaging helps avoid damage not only during transportation of food from manufacturers to retailers but also during consumers’ trips from the supermarket to their homes and during storage until products are consumed. Less robust packing is less costly for suppliers but then food items could be damaged as they move from the supplier to the final place of sale. There is also a stacking problem; not using palletized transportation results in packages getting damaged and the food products getting spoilt. The products are exposed to the risk of damage within the last mile of the supply chain if the packaging is not appropriate.
Person Buying the Food: The decision made by a person buying the food product varies. For example a family member is likely to be more aware of the exact quantity of food products to be purchased or the cost of over purchase while a servant might not necessarily care. The presence of servants/drivers etc. in Qatar makes this factor relevant to food waste.
Port Delays: Delays stemming from the port’s handling capacity results in congestion and elongated times for processing of food imports. This then results in damages to or expiry of highly perishable food items. Moreover, the lack of warehousing capacity within the country results in importers’ leaving their products at the port longer than necessary, which then contributes to the congestion and the subsequent delays and wastage.
Portion Size: Consumers commented on the size of the food served in restaurants and hotels as leading to waste. Frequently, the amount of food served is much bigger than what can be consumed. Another point highlighted was related to the lack of options to choose smaller plates. So sometimes it is obvious that the food will be wasted but not possible to avoid it because of unavailability of smaller portions.
Price Regulations: Prices of some products are regulated while others are not, and a permission is required from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce to sell a product at a certain price. Regardless of the stock available in the market, some of these products cannot be sold above or below certain a price.
Promotions: Food products near their expiry dates or over-stocked products are put on promotions. The responsibility of remembering to use the purchased food product lies with the consumer, waste arises where the food has passed expiry date.
Quality of Food: The conditions the food products are stored and transported are associated with deterioration of quality and consequently food wastage. Poor stock management practices and poor food handling in stores also result in deterioration of quality. The attitude towards food in general is governed by quantity and volume rather than quality. Although quality could be perceived subjectively, high quality of food leads to lower waste and vice versa.
Shelf Life: Shelf life is the length of time that a food product may be stored without becoming unfit for use, consumption, or sale. In the context of Qatar a shelf life of 3 months could be considered short. Shorter shelf life is associated with higher waste.
Shopping Style: Shopping style is associated with the consumer’s attitute towards buying groceries. Strategic shopping is where consumers make a shopping list or when they are aware of their travel plans and shops accordingly. Non-strategic shoppers are impulse buyers who buy other things or more than originally planned.
Shopping Times: It is more convenient for shoppers to buy products early in the morning when they are fresh. For bargain hunters shopping later during the day gives them the opportunity to purchase products that have been discounted, that could be of lower quality and cheaper. The choice of using these products is left with the consumer.
Socioeconomic Status: For higher income households food waste is higher because of variety and demand for higher quality. High income/access to money in Qatar is associated with low sensitivity to food waste. Middle and low income earners are more cautious about food expenditure and unnecessary purchase of food products.
Stock Rotation: Rotation of Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) is not always in place and then products expire because of the lack of / poor rotation. Sometimes the stocks cover 365 days of demand and this is much higher in comparison to the replenishment capabilities of the supply chain.
Storage / Refrigeration Conditions: Poor refrigeration and very hot weather conditions result in perishable products being spoilt much faster. Refrigeration is a problem in particular during the hot months of the year. It is very difficult to keep the food products at a stable temperature in particular due to poor refrigeration and human error (e.g. leaving the door of the refrigerated area open or leaving the product in ambient temperature which could be 40 degrees Celsius from May onwards.) Poor refrigeration results in fresh fruits and vegetables to get spoilt very quickly.
Store Type: Waste from shops differ as people tend to buy bigger quantities of food products from supermarkets than small convenience stores. The availability of variety in supermarkets increases the impulse purchases.
Supermarket Location: Closer store means multiple trips and cautious purchase while farther supermarkets mean fewer trips and less desire for frequent/planned purchases. Access to quality food and proximity to the supermarkets is a factor affecting the quantity of food purchased. While some consumers with vehicles are relatively less bothered about the distance, those that are not mobile prefer closer shops.
Taste of Food: Taste was mentioned as a significant cause of food waste, in relation to what is served to people, for example in labour camps. Qatar has many expatriates from all over the world and the expats long for their own food. Not all people from different nationalities can find the food that suits their taste; for example, people from Myanmar may have to eat Indian food as the closest to what they eat in their home countries. So it was suggested that not serving what the person who is going to eat the product wants results in inevitable waste.
Time of Year: During festive periods more people tend to indulge and hence waste more food.
Food products that originate outside of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are problematic and take a longer time to clear, as they are more scrutinised. Due to the high amount of expats, the time of year (Winter, Summer, Ramadan, Easter, Christmas) is associated with food waste.
Transport Damages: Transportat damage leads to food waste when the products are not secured within the container or the vehicle or when the movers stuff the containers or the vehicles beyond the vehicle capacity. There is also a stacking problem; not using palletized transportation that results in packages getting damaged and the food products getting spoilt. The products are exposed to the risk of damage within the last mile of the supply chain.
Transportation Mode: The mode of transport, hence duration of the product’s journey to Qatar is associated with food waste. Longer duration of sea or road transport leads to more waste while shorter distance of air reduces waste at the expense of other environmental consequences. The choice of mode of course depends on the importer whose intention is to lower cost and also meet the government’s regulation on expiry date.
Travel Frequency: This factor is also associated with Qatar’s unique environment, with approximately 2.5 million expatriates. A busy schedule of travelling means that the consumer is likely to waste more food. This was highlighted by both working class households and single occupant households.
Warehouse and Receiving Areas: Some of the warehouses do not have proper receiving areas and these are the points that put the cold chain at the greatest risk because the food products are exposed to temperature stress even for a short period of time. Moreover, the receiving areas that are not fit for purpose also expose the products to dust which then results in food wastage as well.
Weather Temperature: The climate in Qatar ranges from mild winters to very hot summers. Weather affects how food is stored; consequently, weather changes contribute to the amount of food waste. During summer more food is wasted especially for consumers who are not keen on storing food properly. Again food products that are sensitive to weather such as fresh fruits and vegetables are also wasted more in summer.
Date published: 13 September 2016