According to a recent study from WRAP, approximately 60 per cent of household food waste arises from products ‘not used in time’. The study observes that consumers want clearer information and packaging innovations to help reduce this waste, valued at £6.7 billion.

How can retailers and suppliers introduce, test and measure the effectiveness of changes to packaging? Innovations such as split-packs, resealable packaging and sustainable alternatives to plastic may help to reduce waste but will not survive if sales are adversely affected.

The answer, we suggest, lies in a robust analysis of the performance of individual products, in individual stores, on a daily basis. This may sound obvious, but despite all large retailers collecting this data, much of their analysis uses highly-aggregated data and ignores important detail. When considering packing changes it is necessary to include key product details including:

  • case size;
  • shelf life; and 
  • packaging type;

and set these in the context of promotional patterns, local shopper behaviour and price architecture.

Such details are key when it comes to reducing waste with specific customer groups – for example, single-person households. There is a significant opportunity to lower consumer waste and enhance brand perception by combining single-portion packaging with low-plastic innovation.

Despite rumours of reduced profitability, the reality is that many single-portion products perform very well. Detailed analysis shows that they can simultaneously increase sales and reduce waste with specific shopper groups. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they are more likely to achieve or exceed target performance in metropolitan centres rather than rural areas. Single-person households are more common in urban areas, so aggregated analysis which ignores this might suggest that they perform poorly.

Retailers need to embrace modern analytical technologies – blending machine learning and data visualisation – to create tools which point the way. The discipline of visual analytics enables rapid exploration from macro-patterns to micro-details whilst retaining context. This is a powerful approach for monitoring short-cycle ‘test and measure’ product trials. Rapid, detailed analysis drives rich understanding, leading to better-informed decisions around packaging innovation.

There are many innovative options for reducing waste, but retailers and suppliers need to use appropriate tools and techniques to analyse their performance and identify those which work well. Appropriate detail and analytical agility are key: small incremental improvements can underpin wide-scale best-practice waste and availability improvements.