Part 1: Are we conveniently wasting food?

If there's anything the pandemic taught us, it's the convenience of online services such as food delivery and e-commerce that help in getting what we need. However, convenience may not always be a good thing.

Part 1: Are we conveniently wasting food?

If you had to choose between cooking your meal, purchasing takeaway, and getting it delivered to your doorstep, what would you pick? We’re guessing the latter.

Don’t worry, we would too! ‌‌‌‌In fact, 70% of Singaporeans would probably do the same. With food delivery platforms able to deliver all kinds of food from hawker delights to fine dining and groceries, it can be hard to resist.

Convenience is a priority for consumers
According to a recent customer experience report by Zendesk, convenience is one of the top priorities for consumers amidst the continued adoption of digital solutions. The culprit? The Covid-19 pandemic.

Even though food delivery platforms and digital services pre-date the pandemic, dining and social gathering restrictions during the height of the pandemic pushed many to utilise them. Similarly, businesses had to adapt quickly to changing consumer habits or risk being upended.

Did you know? Food delivery platforms revenues surged by 50% in 2020, with monthly active users in Singapore nearly double that of 2019!

For many consumers, delivery platforms provided them with more than food, it was a form of escape from the pandemic blues. For others, it gave them a chance to dabble in cooking, something they had never done pre-pandemic.

New normal, new food habits
As we transition from pandemic to endemic, convenience has established itself as a mandatory part of the consumer experience. While physical experiences such as shopping at the grocery store and dining in at restaurants are ever-present, consumers still enjoy the additional, contactless option of delivery.

Post-pandemic, there is still a significant uptick in the number of food and grocery orders(Source: Grab, Singapore Food and Grocery Trends 2022)

Being creatures of habit, it can be hard to let go of something that has felt natural for so long. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with diversifying your options right?

Well, here’s where convenience can become an inconvenience
You’ve heard the saying, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Now that consumers have a myriad of options to choose from via digital and physical means, purchase and consumption habits have also increased. Additionally, with some of the highest internet adoption levels in the world, Singaporeans’ appetite for convenience is set to grow further!

In 2020, Singapore contributed to almost 17% of Southeast Asia’s US$9.4 billion food delivery expenditure

However, an increased appetite coupled with the thrill of online ordering, inevitably contributes to an already-prevalent problem: household food waste.

Over the last 10 years, Singapore’s food waste amount has grown by around 20%.
Most of Singapore’s food waste data is monitored downstream, making consumers purchase and consumption decisions even more crucial in the reduction of food waste.

When convenience and variety are readily available, consumers may:

1. Confuse the ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’
A lot of the time, needs and wants tend to overlap. Whether in the form of a discount, bundle deal or simply being ‘kiasu’, access to them both in-store and online can blur the line between essentials and simply nice-to-haves.

2. Buy more than necessary
You’ve heard of revenge-travelling post-pandemic, but there’s revenge-buying too! The pandemic allowed online grocery shopping platforms like RedMart to import food items from international brands such as Lotte, Woolworths and more.

For the travel-starved, this is likely a dream come true. However, it results in buying more than necessary. Be it seasonal fruits, limited edition international snacks or just out of sheer stockpiling habits post-pandemic.

Did you know? 76% of Singaporeans do not intend to return to pre-pandemic shopping levels.

3. Forget what they bought
Even though most Singaporeans have a shopping routine, our carts have grown significantly since the pandemic. With more items in the inventory, consumers are more likely to overlook items they have bought. When consumers discover their surplus items, it may be too late to salvage it.

4. Over-order food items
Just like the increase in groceries purchased, Singapore’s food delivery orders have grown both in size and price. Being able to enjoy a variety of options conveniently through a single platform continues to drive consistent usage of food delivery platforms.

I mean, Deliveroo even has a term for such consumers- Adventurous Adam.

Whether for social gatherings or regular meals, food delivery remains an option, only contributing to the ongoing issue of food waste.

5. Have leftovers from meals
A common sight even before the pandemic, over-ordering inevitably leads to unfinished meals. Instead of looking for alternative ways to use and/or save them for later, chucking it into the bin seems like the most convenient option.

6. Use ingredients for one-off purposes
Even as some consumers keep up the habit of cooking from home post-pandemic, ingredients(and its parts) are often based on specific recipes. Unless the same dish is cooked multiple times, ingredients are often discarded after use.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency(NEA) launched the “Love Your Food” guidebook that includes a leftovers recipe book. (Source)

Everyone contributes to food waste
If you relate strongly to what was mentioned above, you’re surely contributing to household food waste. Truth is, everyone is probably guilty to some extent.

In 2020, total food waste generated reached an all-time low due to pandemic restrictions that controlled the movement of people in the country.(Source)

Given that the city-state imports 90% of its food, a 20% growth takes a rather big bite out of its already finite supply. If food waste continues to be generated at this rate, food security may be compromised.

For a country that prides itself in its eclectic cuisine, are consumers turning a blind eye to the consequences of their food consumption and purchasing habits? Or are we just jaded?

Why is food waste reduction/avoidance so difficult to achieve?
Earlier, we elaborated on the ease of purchasing food. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about its reduction. Requiring education, awareness and effort to effectively reduce, some common painpoints faced by consumers are:

1. No time to waste. Pun intended.
In a country where only 1 in 4 workers get at least 7 hours of sleep and yet work some of the longest hours in the Asia Pacific region, taking steps to reduce food waste may be a tall order.

After getting home from work at 7pm at the earliest if we’re lucky, financial loss from wasted food is likely the last thing on our minds.

2. Eating out
After a long few years of having our right to dine-in abruptly taken(and returned!) from us, eased restrictions have seen an uptick in consumers returning to dine-in. This makes perfect sense for a country where eating is a pastime and means of socialising.

Between work and home-cooked food, popping by the nearest hawker centre or restaurant for a meal on the way home just seems like the easier, least time, and energy-consuming option. At times, dining out may be a spontaneous decision, resulting in wastage of the food at home.

3. Abundance of food options
Singapore isn’t called the melting pot for no reason. Home to diverse cultures and traditions, there is naturally an abundance of food. According to Professor Jeyakumar Henry, “a diverse plethora of food” can make consumers want to eat more even when they do not need to.

Giving in to temptations and indulging can lead to the generation of even more food waste.

4. Lack of meal planning and preparation knowledge
Even though Singapore loves its food, we prefer to remain as its consumers. As compared to the rest of the world, only 22% of Singaporeans cook at home. For comparison, nearly half of the people in London, Paris and China cook at home daily.

Of the 22% who cook, most rely on recipes as a fail-proof method of cooking. It can be tedious to plan recipes with existing ingredients in mind, often leading to the disposal of the excess ingredients.

Take it from this Reddit user!(Source)

5. General ignorance
When we throw out expired or leftover food, we don’t think much about what happens to it and the greater problem it’s contributing to. “A little bit only la!” is generally what Singaporeans think of their food disposal actions. However, just like many things, a little can go a long way in terms of generating food waste.


A personal choice
At the end of the day, food waste is unavoidable. However, there are small, everyday steps we can take to reduce food waste. Most of the time, food waste can actually be consumed or used for other purposes.
Through more conscious purchase and consumption practices, we will be one step closer to reducing our household food waste. And if every household does so, imagine the benefits it will have on the country and our earth.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we share some everyday steps you can take to reduce and even avoid food waste!