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dc.contributor.advisorRobertson, Kirsten
dc.contributor.advisorThyne, Maree
dc.contributor.advisorMirosa, Miranda
dc.contributor.authorMakhal, Annesha Bernadette
dc.identifier.citationMakhal, A. B. (2020). An exploration of appearance-driven fruit and vegetable waste through the eyes of children: A consumer socialisation perspective (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstract“We need to find the beauty inside these vegetables, and not only on the outside.” ―Dana Cowin, Food & Wine Editor-In-Chief Food waste is a global issue with negative social, economic, and environmental consequences. Of all the food categories, fruits and vegetables comprise the largest share of global foodstuffs waste. A major cause of this waste is consumers’ unwillingness to purchase and consume produce that look atypical, or suboptimal. In this thesis, fresh fruits and vegetables that deviate in appearance from what is considered normal, are called ‘suboptimal’. The suboptimal foods literature has tended to focus on adult consumers’ perceptions and behaviours towards suboptimal produce, with a dearth of research that has explored this context from the young consumer’s perspective. Understanding these behaviours from the perspectives of children, is not just a novel perspective for understanding consumer behaviour towards suboptimal produce waste, but also provides an opportunity to understand how these perceptions are socialised. The young consumer segment comprises of children characterised by their concerns for global sustainability issues and willingness to participate in consumer activism to voice their concerns for environmental degradation; hence their voices are increasingly being heard and taken into consideration by both industry and policy makers. The overall objective of this thesis is to explore suboptimal produce consumption, purchase, and preference from the perspectives of children, thereby also casting light on how these preferences are socialised. To do so, a two-step methodological approach involving a mock shopping activity and focus group discussions with 97 children aged between 5 and 11 was undertaken. The first step was a shopping activity which was used to directly observe how fruit and vegetable choices are made. This was followed by focus group discussions which asked children about their preference between a suboptimal and optimal fruit or vegetable; their previous exposure to atypical fruit and vegetables; and their knowledge and awareness about suboptimal produce waste and waste reduction initiatives. Thereafter an inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the data and derive themes which have been reported across the three papers which form the results section of this thesis. In line with the global target to halve per capita food waste by 2030 (Target 12.3 of the 12th Sustainable Development Goal), retailers worldwide have initiated selling suboptimal produce in supermarkets. The retailing strategy to market suboptimal produce includes using imagery that may appeal to children, however there is a dearth of research that has studied how children perceive suboptimal produce. Hence, the first paper (chapter 3) explored how children perceive the edibility of suboptimal fruits and vegetables with respect to different types of appearance defects, namely shape, size and colour defects, and blemish levels. This study found that children are largely accepting of suboptimal produce. Specifically, defects in shape, size, and certain colour defects were positively perceived, whilst blemishes and brown discolorations were negatively perceived. Overall, in comparison to the past literature on how (adult) consumers perceive suboptimal produce, children were more accepting of most appearance defects. Hence, the findings of this study have implications for retailers selling suboptimal produce, who could potentially market suboptimal produce to children as they are accepting of most types of appearance-defects in fruits and vegetables. Academically, this paper revealed the nuances of consumer edibility perceptions with respect to different types of appearance defects. Furthermore, the findings revealed that children’s edibility perceptions were linked to familiarity, a product of one’s food socialisations, which informed the objective of the second study which was to explore how appearance-preferences for fresh fruits and vegetables are socialised. Although research suggests the possibility of consumers’ rejection of suboptimal produce being socialised, empirical research that has explored these socialisations is lacking. Understanding these socialisations provides useful insight into how suboptimal produce purchase, consumption, and use could be normalised. Hence, the second paper (chapter 4) explored the underlying socialisations that lead to either the acceptance or rejection of suboptimal produce. Four factors were identified as socialising factors that lead to the acceptance of suboptimal produce. These include growing fruits and vegetables at home, repurposing suboptimal produce, learning about food waste, and produce choice autonomy. These factors familiarise and normalise seeing, using, and consuming suboptimal produce. These socialisations also empower children to challenge the existing appearance-based prejudices against suboptimal produce, and likewise make volitional choices favouring suboptimal produce over the regular optimal produce. Alternatively, the factors that contribute to the rejection of suboptimal produce are driven by children’s observations of parents’ produce choice behaviours in-store, and parental/family norms about how fruits and vegetables should be chosen, prepared, and consumed. These observations and subsequent practice of family norms convey desirable produce appearance preferences, which are learnt and replicated. Overall, this study provides implications for public policy that is working towards normalising suboptimal produce. It provides a novel perspective to suboptimal produce preference or rejection by exploring the phenomenon through the consumer socialisation lens. The third paper (chapter 5), presents suggestions for retailers to consider in light of preventing suboptimal produce devaluation and waste through children’s own voices. The findings highlight that the current marketing strategies retailers employ for selling suboptimal produce differentiates and devalues produce on the basis of appearance. Hence alternative strategies, such as relaxing appearance standards and allowing shelf space for produce with extreme appearance deformities, and using non-discriminatory branding, product placement, messaging and pricing strategies were suggested. Additionally, strategies to prevent suboptimal produce waste were suggested. These include targeted marketing of suboptimal produce to children and redistributing suboptimal produce to children through the existing ‘Free Fruit for Kids’ channel; encouraging suboptimal produce choice in-store by using facts to spread awareness about suboptimal produce waste and gamifying the purchase and consumption of suboptimal produce; and donating unsold suboptimal produce to poor local communities. These recommendations not only show how suboptimal produce devaluation and waste could be minimised, but also opens new frontiers for suboptimal produce retailing strategies. In sum, this thesis makes a number of academic and applied contributions. It is the first body of work that has explored consumer behaviour towards suboptimal produce from a young consumer’s perspective. It is also the first to have examined and compared children’s perceptions about all the major appearance defects in fresh produce to report how these perceptions differ across varying appearance defects. As a result, the implications of this research are more specific to different types of appearance defects. It has applied the consumer socialisation theory to identify the socialisations that form these perceptions towards suboptimal produce, thereby advancing the suboptimal produce waste literature by understanding consumer perceptions through a sociological lens. Alternatively, it has contributed to the consumer socialisation literature by showing how various food-related social practices (e.g., growing produce, repurposing suboptimal produce, grocery shopping etc.) influence consumer perception and valuation of suboptimal produce. In practice, the findings from the three papers largely inform retailing practices for marketing and selling suboptimal produce. The research also influences how policy makers could implement normalisation strategies for increasing the acceptance of suboptimal produce. These suggestions are useful for organisations working with the United Nations to meet their food waste reduction targets and goals, thereby enhancing the value of food whilst also achieving greater food sustainability in the long-run.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
dc.rightsAll items in OUR Archive are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.
dc.subjectFood Waste
dc.subjectConsumer Socialisation
dc.subjectFood Appearance
dc.subjectYoung Consumers
dc.subjectFocus Group Discussions
dc.subjectQualitative Research
dc.subjectSustainable Development Goals
dc.subjectsuboptimal produce
dc.subjectugly fruits and vegetables
dc.subjectFood Loss
dc.titleAn exploration of appearance-driven fruit and vegetable waste through the eyes of children: A consumer socialisation perspective
dc.language.rfc3066en of Philosophy of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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