People, food, and a global pandemic: Why research accelerates progress

3 March 2021

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since the UK’s first lockdown began, and since then we have all learned a lot – about ourselves, other people, the virus, and our own ability to adapt.

Personally, I’ve learned that I can just about balance working full time with entertaining a toddler and a one-year-old. Professionally, WRAP has learned just how resilient the UK population can be, especially when it comes to managing our food.

As one of WRAP’s research leads, my job is to identify opportunities where further research, evaluation, or other evidence gathering would help us make the greatest impact possible. WRAP as an organisation is at its heart evidence-based, and everything we do is founded on robust, thorough understandings of our major stakeholder: UK citizens.

2020 was transformative for us all, but in terms of research it gave WRAP the opportunity to delve even more deeply into people’s management of and relationship with food. In a year when supermarket shelves were cleared of flour, essential shops limited sale of certain high-demand items, and everyone and their dog made banana bread, food became more important than ever. Amidst all of this, WRAP was there finding out how and why people tried to waste less food. Looking back, I feel more acutely than ever that our approach of evidence guiding action is crucial, and I’m proud of how we have applied our research to create change.

So why the increased focus on household food waste?

Well, 70% of the food wasted in the UK (post farm-gate) occurs in households: a massive 6.6 million tonnes. Over two-thirds of this is food intended to be eaten, with a value of almost £14 billion in 2018.

In a ‘normal’ year, WRAP undertakes two surveys to track knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours relevant to household food management and waste. In this unprecedented period of change, we chose to up the ante. We carried out four surveys across the UK during 2020, each offering unique insight into the lives of UK citizens through the lens of household food management. Knowing how people were adapting to these moments of change enabled us and our partners to tailor our activity to create positive impacts and react to negative deviations.

Our findings were extensive and often surprising:

  • The April survey found that UK citizens had transformed their behaviours, largely due to lockdown concerns, and reported wasting 30% less than before lockdown. These insights (and those from the June survey) led to the development of a fresh, relevant new Love Food Hate Waste campaign – Keep Crushing It – specifically encouraging people to maintain the good food management behaviours they picked up during lockdown.
  • Insights from the September research clearly showed that, as restrictions were eased and lockdown concerns lessened, citizens needed new motivations to manage their food. We found that while 81% of UK citizens are concerned about climate change, just 30% say that they can see a clear link with wasted food. We therefore saw the need to introduce, Wasting Food: It’s Out of Date, aimed at informing the public about how significantly wasting food contributes to climate change.
  • The November survey found that certain food management competencies appear key to reducing household food waste. Each day of our inaugural Food Waste Action Week is focusing on these, providing citizens with guidance and support to improve their skills.


The impact of this research absolutely justified the additional work. Developing Keep Crushing It based on these findings meant that our information and creatives specifically targeted the behaviours we knew were useful to people. The subsequent surveys showed a positive response to this campaign, demonstrating that developing messages based on our research helped people manage their food better as the national situation changed again.

For example, in the first lockdown, WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste resources supported UK citizens to establish new food routines and strategies. Those who saw the A–Z storage guidance undertook 12.4 actions more often (compared to the UK average of 6.7).

By the time of the November survey, almost one in five UK citizens (19%) had seen at least one Love Food Hate Waste campaign (including one in eight –12% – who have seen a 2020 campaign). Among this cohort, three quarters (75%) say they did something differently as a result. This equates to 7.9 million UK citizens aged 18+ taking action to stop food being wasted because of engaging with the Love Food Hate Waste communications that where informed by our research.

I hope that, this time next year, I’m not writing another post about how we helped people manage food through any further periods of uncertainty. However, I do hope that we can see a continuation in the upward trend of people caring about how wasting food feeds climate change, and developing habits to reduce what they waste.

Our research is fundamental to who we are as an organisation. As the world recovers from this devastating past year, embedding these behaviours is essential, and I’m confident we will continue to apply our thorough research to making that happen.