Cosmetic specifications in the food waste issue: Supply chain considerations and practices concerning suboptimal food products

Ilona E. de Hooge*, Eileen van Dulm, Hans C.M. van Trijp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


During the last decade, food waste has become an object of interest for both scholars and society. The existence of cosmetic specifications regarding the physical appearance of foods in the food supply chains is considered to be one of the important causes of food waste. The relevant aesthetic standards concern the product's weight, shape, and size and are thought to contribute considerably to food waste across multiple supply chain levels. It has been suggested that the abolition of these specifications could be a relatively easy way to prevent food wastage. However, there is a dearth of empirical research due to the lack of data on the extent to which foods are wasted as a result of cosmetic specifications only. Importantly, there is also a lack of insight into the decision-making process of supply chain actors regarding such suboptimal products. The present research aims to fill this gap by investigating the motivations and perceptions of supply chain actors in their strategies on how to handle suboptimal products in their business practices. From thirty-three interviews with primary producers, producer organizations, and retailers from Germany and the Netherlands, we derive initial insights into (1) the presence and nature of cosmetic specifications, (2) the impact of these specifications on food waste, (3) the motivations, abilities, and opportunities of supply chain actors to handle suboptimal products in their business practice and (4) their perspectives on the end consumers' willingness to buy and pay for suboptimal products. With the Motivation, Ability, and Opportunity (MOA) framework, we provide new understanding of supply chain actors' decisions concerning the production or wastage of suboptimal products, which can generate new and essential insights into the food waste problem.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-709
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Aesthetic standards
  • Food supply chains
  • Food waste
  • MOA framework
  • Product specifications
  • Suboptimal food products


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