Do consumers want to eat upcycled food?

Food waste is one of the most significant problems facing the food industry today, with more than a third of food wasted globally. And in the Global North, this proportion is even higher.

Upcycling food can help to mitigate the problem. A wide range of food can be upcycled, from agricultural side streams​ to broccoli​ and chicken carcasses​. Turning food no one wants to eat into food some people want to eat changes the ratio of food wasted to food not wasted.

The only problem is, indeed, only some people ​want to eat such food. What are their motivations, what are the motivations of those who don’t ​want to eat them, and how do we predict who will or who won’t? A study of 37 pieces of research, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, ​looked at this.

Taking in research articles from around the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, the study gave a global overview of consumer perceptions of upcycled food.

The studies took in the upcycling of foods such as fruit and vegetable by-products, olive, grain, meat, and even the byproducts from winemaking, giving a broad range of upcycled foods assessed for consumer acceptability.

Psychographic influences

Perhaps ironically for upcycled food, which is essentially repurposed existing food side streams, one of the primary barriers to consumer acceptance is neophobia, or the fear of the new. Neophobia is a key factor in many markets, such as insect protein​, and upcycled foods are no exception.

Across many of the studies, a significant correlation was found between food neophobia, food technology neophobia, and reluctance to accept upcycled foods. Whilst it was not universal, it cropped up in enough of the studies to suggest a clear trend.