Doctor Christian Reynolds – Written evidence (FPO0077)

1.1.      I am a Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Sheffield, working in the area of linking food waste reduction to healthy sustainable dietary patterns (this includes examining how to change pack and portion size, as well as packaging to achieve a sustainable food system). I have published 30 scientific papers and book chapters upon the social, economic and environmental impacts of diet and food waste in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

1.2.      I will be providing information on specific questions asked by the committee below.

  1. Q: What impact do food production processes (including product formulation, portion size, packaging and labelling) have on consumers’ dietary choices and does this differ across income groups?

2.1.                        Food production has a large (and unseen) impact on consumers choices. As shown by Cooper and Nelson (2003) the nutritional composition alters due to product formulation (and this can be extrapolated across the entire price point).

2.2.                        Work funded by NERC (and carried out in collaboration with WRAP see (“Linking sustainable food with food waste in policy; a NERC innovation placement in WRAP” NERC Reference: NE/R007160/1) has shown that the portion size as well as packaging options can have impacts on calories consumed as well as the amount of food wasted (see Reynolds 2018, and Kandimier et al 2019).

2.3.                        Indeed, this (in progress) research has found that some foods are currently sold only in pack sizes and portion sizes that cannot be eaten by a single person in an appropriate portion size and time frame before they pass their best before or use-by dates. This amounts to the food manufacturers either 1) encouraging excess consumption of calories, encouraging the waste of food, or 2) not producing food in the correct packaging and portions to suit all consumers (with single householders a growing and large demographic of both the young and old).

2.4.                        The dietary choice effect of food production extends across income groups. However, I must highlight that the specific foods purchased and consumed by each income group differ (see Reynolds et al 2019). This means that the specific foods (and food choices) that are affected by food production choices also differ, based on that income groups consumption preferences.

2.5.                        For instance, lower incomes are more likely to purchase and eat processed meat, and therefore reformulation and packaging alterations to processed meats will more likely effect those that purchase it in greater quantities.  It should be highlighted that the effects of choices to food production can be a positive – for instance improving packaging or portion sizes to extend shelf life can lead to great food availability and reduced food waste. This can lead to monetary savings due to effective food consumption.

  1. Q: What further action is required to minimise food waste?

3.1.    The drivers of food waste are well understood [Quested 2013]. However, previous food waste reduction interventions only achieve a 5%-20% reduction in food waste [Reynolds et al 2019], with further large-scale reductions not yet possible [WRAP 2014].

3.2.    One avenue that has not been explored is product innovation to reduce food waste. This is due to a lack of knowledge around which foods and innovation combinations will provide the largest reductions. It is known that correct packaging can reduce food waste [Wikström et al 2018]; 31% of avoidable household food waste (1.3 million tonnes) is caused by a mismatch of packaging, pack, and portion size, and household food habits [Williams et al 2012]. In addition, there are large differences in the environmental impact ratio between packaging and food for different products (0.06% to 700%), with limited existing tools to assess which food innovations are likely to result in lower food waste and environmental impacts [Heller et al 2018, Wikström et al 2010].

3.3.                        In discussion and round tables with industry partners at the University of Sheffield, it became apparent that industry may be reluctant to attempt product innovation without evidence, as 1) there has been a strong media/public backlash over failed attempts and 2) the set-up cost of equipment for new packaging.

3.4.                        Our preliminary pilot Household Food Waste Simulation Model (HHSM) forecasts waste reduction rates for innovations for some of the most wasted household food products. Results include: consuming multi-pack yogurts: 25% decrease in waste; increasing the open shelf of hard cheese: 15% decrease in waste [Kandimier et al 2019].

3.5.                        Animal based products (such as meat and dairy) are high in embodied environmental impact and short in shelf life (resulting in food waste). This makes plastic an effective packaging medium due to increasing product shelf life. The environmental impact of animal product food waste is typically higher than the impact of its plastic packaging. However there has been a recent public backlash against this plastic packaging.

3.6.                        Our preliminary modelling indicates that, for some staple products (such as bread), the environmental impacts of plastic packaging are greater than the environmental impacts associated with the food  waste of that product. For instance, a switch from purchasing an 800g loaf once a week to a 400g loaf twice a week reduces food waste; however, the environmental impact of packaging increases. The environmental impact of increased packaging is greater than the environmental savings from food waste reduction.

3.7.                        Further analysis is underway on multiple products and packaging types, and this can be supplied to the committee on request.

3.8.                        In addition, in private talks with industry via workshops at the University of Sheffield, we have found that there is an appetite for additional funding for research, development, and innovation to support the optimisation of packaging types and product sizes to allow for both food waste and packaging waste reduction. There also needs for stimulus and economic incentives to allow industry to invest in the correct manufacturing equipment to allow for the manufacture of the correctly sized (and packaged) products, as this is a potential barrier to implementing further innovation.

  1. Q: A Public Health England report has concluded that “considerable and largely unprecedented” dietary shifts are required to meet Government guidance on healthy diets. What policy approaches (for example, fiscal or regulatory measures, voluntary guidelines, or attempts to change individual or population behaviour through information and education) would most effectively enable this? What role could public procurement play in improving dietary behaviours?

5.1.                        A healthy, sustainable and affordable diet for all income groups in the UK is possible.

5.2.                        Indeed, it is possible for consumers to keep on consuming all current foods (including animal products) to some level. Although, this includes increased consumption of certain foods by up to 200% (Fruits, vegetables etc), and the reduction of other foods (such as animal products) to 30% of their current amounts. (See Reynolds et al 2019). However, the challenge of communicating this to consumers and industry is immense.

5.3.                        Regarding communicating dietary shifts, my (currently unpublished) citizen science research has shown that there is a large difference between people’s perceptions of what is environmentally friendly, or low calorie, and what food’s actually are environmentally friendly, or low calorie. (For an example of a study from the USA see Camilleri et al 2018).

5.4.                        The results of my previous research indicates that information and education campaigns need to be tailored to different dietary patterns (and income groups) to be effective.


5.5.                        I have been involved with research into Food Hubs” in the UK as a method to de-stigmatise food poverty, revitalise local economies and increase fruit and vegetable consumption (see Guzman and Reynolds 2019, and Psarikidou et al 2019).

5.6.                        Broadly speaking, food hubs are entities that sit between people who produce food and people who use it, gathering food from growers and distributing it either to commercial customers or directly to consumers. Often, they focus on helping small-scale suppliers find markets, and operate within an explicit ethical framework. They can fill gaps in local food infrastructure, help consumers find locally sourced produce, support new forms of food retail, incubate food enterprises, or create a space for community education and action.

5.7.                        Through our research we have found that food hubs can operate as a mechanism to provide improved food security to local deprived communities and improve fruit and vegetable consumption in these communities.

5.8.                        We have found multiple examples of public procurement policy having engaged with food hubs to improve local food provision and food security, leading to a more robust and secure local food supply and a healthier local community.


Doctor Christian Reynolds, Department of Geography and the Institute for Sustainable Food, the University of Sheffield

30 September 2019



Camilleri AR, Larrick RP, Hossain S, et al. (2018) Consumers underestimate the emissions associated with food but are aided by labels. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 53–59. Springer US.

Cooper, S. and Nelson, M., 2003. ‘Economy’ line foods from four supermarkets and brand name equivalents: a comparison of their nutrient contents and costs. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 16(5), pp.339-347.

Guzman, P. and Reynolds, C.  (2019) Food Hubs in the UK: Where are we and what next? Report. Food Research Collaboration

Heller, M. C., S. E. M. Selke, and G. A. Keoleian. 2018. Mapping the influence of food waste in food packaging environmental performance assessments. Journal of Industrial Ecology

Kandemir C, Quested, T. Reynolds,C. Fisher K. Devine, R. 2019 Household food waste simulation model: Investigation of interventions for staple food items waste, June 2019 Conference: 26th EurOMA Conference At: Helsinki, Finland.

Psarikidou, K., Kaloudis, H., Fielden, A. and Reynolds, C., 2019. Local food hubs in deprived areas: de-stigmatising food poverty?. Local Environment, 24(6), pp.525-538.

Quested, T.E., Marsh, E., Stunell, D. and Parry, A.D., 2013. Spaghetti soup: The complex world of food waste behaviours. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 79, pp.43-51.

Reynolds 2018, The role of portion size, pack size, and packaging in sustainable healthy food consumption and food waste reduction March 2018 DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15401.29284 Conference: Manufacturing Food Futures Conference 2018

Reynolds, C., Goucher, L., Quested, T., Bromley, S., Gillick, S., Wells, V.K., Evans, D., Koh, L., Kanyama, A.C., Katzeff, C. and Svenfelt, Å., 2019. Consumption-stage food waste reduction interventions–What works and how to design better interventions. Food Policy

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Williams, H., F. Wikström, T. Otterbring, M. Löfgren, and A. Gustafsson. 2012. Reasons for household food waste with special attention to packaging. Journal of Cleaner Production 24: 141–148.

WRAP 2014, UK food waste – Historical changes and how amounts might be influenced in the future, Banbury