Visual date marking cues influence consumers’ interpretation and choices to use or discard foods

Zeinstra, G.G.; Haar, S. van der; Bos-Brouwers, H.E.J.; Janssen, A.M.; Bergen, G. van


It is estimated that about 10% of the household food waste is due to consumers’ misunderstanding about date marking. In particular, not knowing the difference between use-by and best-before expiry dates may contribute to unnecessary food waste. This consumer study explored whether additional (visual) information on product packages can facilitate consumer understanding of expiry dates and thereby reduce food waste. An online survey was executed among a representative sample of 1506 Dutch consumers. The first part consisted of a between-subject choice experiment where four visual cues were tested as well as a text-only condition (five similar groups). Respondents chose whether they would eat, look-smell-taste or discard products based on food pictures. The food pictures were first shown without additional (visual) information, and subsequently with (visual) information. In the second part, respondents evaluated the different visual cues via several tasks (grouping, rank-order and statement scoring). Logistic mixed effects regression analyses showed a small significant effect of adding (visual) information. For best-before products, adding a (visual) cue decreased the probability to discard (vs. look-smell-taste; p=0.045) products past the expiry date. For use-by products, adding a (visual) cue decreased the probability to eat.