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Campaign to fight takeout food waste

By Hu Yuyan | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-04 14:12
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Online delivery restaurants urged to change portions, prices and labeling

The State Administration for Market Regulation recently launched a nationwide campaign to reduce food waste, requiring food and beverage businesses to specify the weight of takeout food they sell online.

The three-month campaign is urging online takeout ordering services to improve the description of takeout food and encouraging F&B businesses to offer smaller portions and clearly mark the weight of meals.

As of December 2021, the number of China's food delivery service users reached 540 million, up from 420 million a year ago, according to figures from the State Information Center and market consultancy iiMedia Research.

However, food waste has become an issue. The School of Economics and Management at Anhui Agricultural University conducted a survey on food waste involving takeouts among college students in the eastern province of Anhui. It found that only 31.5 percent of the respondents said almost all the food they had ordered was eaten.

Certain factors, such as coupons and a high minimum order requirement, often prompt customers to order more than they need.

Zhu Lin, who works in the food industry, told Xinhua News Agency: "Most takeout businesses set their minimum order requirements at around 20 yuan ($3), with some exceeding 50 yuan. The customer must order enough in order to hit the threshold."

A customer surnamed Meng from South China's Guangdong province told Xinhua that the minimum order amount in some drinks shops is higher than the price of a single item on their menus. "They don't deliver if I order only one cup of milk tea, but two is too much for me," she said.

Some customers choose to order a large portion because the small portion is worse value in comparison. For example, one restaurant sells a 50-gram meat dish at 78 yuan and a 1-kilogram one at 138 yuan. While the large portion is nearly double the small portion in terms of price, it is 20 times heavier, according to Xinhua.

Despite a slew of regulations against food waste, some problems remain, such as the low profit of some F&B businesses on takeout ordering platforms. This is a result of factors including intense competition and increased costs.

The owner of an F&B business surnamed Yang told Xinhua: "Sometimes we have to participate in promotional activities such as offering free delivery and discounts, and the costs involved are borne by us. This makes the profit from selling takeout very low."

Another factor that causes food waste is that the quantity of dishes is not clear.

Wang Xiaobo, a researcher at the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences, said to Xinhua: "Most customers do not wish to waste food. But unlike on-premise dining, it's impossible for the customer to see the real thing when ordering takeout online.

"And it's difficult to estimate the amount of food by looking at the pictures provided by the restaurants. This can easily make customers order more than they need."

There is also a need to encourage F&B businesses to offer small portions. Figures cited by Xinhua show that in 2022, the average daily searches for the keyword "small portion" on a takeout ordering platform exceeded 130,000.

Zhu, the industry insider, said that customer feedback on small portions of takeout food has been good overall. However, many F&B businesses are yet to offer small portions and some of those who do only provide limited options, which indicates a need to promote small portions among F&B businesses, Zhu added.

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