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Is it “buy-one-get-one-free”, or “buy-one-throw-one-out”?

A new report on grocery stores and food waste says one of shoppers’ favorite promotions is part of the problem. And if retailers heed the report’s recommendations, then instead of getting more for less, you could be getting less for more.

In “Checked Out: How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste”, the Center for Biological Diversity argues that BOGOs are bad news. Two-for-one deals encourage “overstocked displays that result in over-purchasing and spoilage,” the report says. Therefore, “eliminating buy-one-get-one-free sales and other promotions that encourage over-purchasing can help prevent food waste in stores and homes.”

BOGOs are one of the most popular types of grocery promotions. But they’re falling out of favor among those who are concerned about wasted food.

“Buy-one-get-one-free offers are correlated with over-purchasing, which shifts the food waste burden onto customers,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s report found.

And the problem is bigger than you might imagine. The report says an estimated 40% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted every year. Uneaten food is the single largest source of trash in municipal landfills, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion a year.

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Two years ago, the British grocer Sainsbury’s became the first in the country to do away with BOGO deals altogether. “We are making it easier for customers to buy the products they need, in the quantities they need, without having to buy multiple items to enjoy great value,” the retailer explained. BOGOs are “often confusing and create logistical challenges”.

But BOGOs apparently present other problems as well. British lawmakers are expected to introduce new measures next month that would ban BOGOs on junk food, in particular. The idea is to help prevent childhood obesity, by preventing retailers and manufacturers from making their products too cheap and too tempting.

So wait – do BOGOs encourage us to waste more, or consume more? Or both?

No matter, because Britain has been at the forefront of banning them, no matter the rationale. And some aren’t happy about it. “We’re on the slippery slope to tobacco-style regulation of everyday food,” Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute told The Sun newspaper.

And now researchers are encouraging BOGO-loving Americans to welcome similar restrictions here.

“Eliminating food waste in the grocery sector could have a ripple effect across society that could help address hunger, save money, conserve water and land, create more efficient agricultural systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect endangered species,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s report concludes.

It just might not help you save money. In the end, it comes down to whether retailers, manufacturers and shoppers decide that saving the Earth is more important.

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4 Comments

  1. They could simply offer the customers the exact same amount of savings by replacing all b1g1 offers with 50% off offers, but I’d imagine they’ll be too greedy to offer a fair deal AND not make people get an excessive amount to get it.

  2. Honest Couponer says:

    Not to mention, BOGO coupons generally provide the worst pay-outs for the brands who execute them. Kind of hard to show a positive return on your promotional dollars when you’re giving away product. Makes you wonder why anyone does BOGO coupons any more.

  3. I think this is also much more of a problem for the affluent than the poor. If you are really poor you rarely, almost never, throw away food – you just cannot afford to do so, at least in my experience.

    But, of course, most of the coupons/BOGOs are not really aimed at the poor customers anyway – they are attempts to entice the affluent into spending more. And as the digital collection of couponing/shopping data continues/accelerates the eventual trend will probably be where every coupon/BOGO is personalized and addressed to a tighter (affluent) target audience and the poor will be cut out of the process completely eventually.

  4. Seems they are much more of an issue when on things that are more perishable (and thus hard for someone to use the two within the item’s lifespan).

    Not such a big deal on packaged items that have a longer shelf life to use up.

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