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Surprising Science

Stop Buying Food in Bulk

The save more, buy more philosophy is an illusion. Americans tend to waste more when they buy more.

“The U.S. wastes 31 to 40 percent of its post-harvest food supply,” and most of that number is at the consumer level, according to a recent study published in Plos One. Researchers from the University of Arizona believe part of this wastefulness stems from stores like Costco and Walmart pushing the idea: If you buy in bulk, you’ll save more.

The value that wholesalers sell to their buyers is a hard one to pass up, but a quantitative study done by researchers shows that the idea and the reality just don’t match up. Lead author Victoria Ligon explained in a press release:

“The problem is that people are not shopping frequently enough, which sounds counterintuitive. It seems that people in this country are very price sensitive at the grocery store, but tend to overlook the cost of discarded and unused food at home.”

Ligon noticed in her studies that consumers will often go to four to seven different stores and “overbuy at each of the places where they shop, and it’s not just the cost of products, but it is also expensive in terms of time spent traveling back and forth to these different places.”

All people can see, she explains, is how much money they save now and not how much money they threw out a week later. Even when Ligon revealed to the participants the amount of waste they were producing, they didn’t want to acknowledge it.

“It’s uncomfortable. People don’t want to confront the cost of the products they are throwing away. It’s sort of embarrassing. But everyone felt they wanted to reduce their waste.”

It’s even more difficult when there’s an entire market dedicated to convincing you to buy more. However, some food stores are taking responsibility. The Daily Table built its store on selling somewhat fresh food for a discounted price.

Ligon suggests consumers should alter how they shop. Rather than going every two weeks, “[shop] on a more frequent basis, so that you are only buying what you are going to consume in the short term.”

Read more at UA News.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan / Staff


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