Sufficiency: When Is Enough For Your Customer, Enough For Your Business?

Kathryn Rae

Like many, I am completely enthralled with the age of consumerism – I am a willing victim to the lures of clever marketing (and even guilty of playing on the dark side of the marketing machine for many years).

Recently, I spent a week with colleagues and clients in Shanghai and Hong Kong, facilitating workshops on circular economy initiatives – and a common theme to the workshop discussion was “sufficiency.”

How can we convince customers to only expect and purchase enough to satisfy their needs, and how can a business remodel itself to deliver on this value proposition while still being profitable?

Durable goods, such as fashion or home appliances, can (relatively easily) encourage sufficiency through improving quality, providing repair services, extending product life, and connecting positive brand values while charging a premium and securing profitability.

The challenge of food waste

However, let’s consider the challenges of encouraging food sufficiency – a low-cost consumable purchased every day, partly used, then discarded.

Australia’s National Food Waste Baseline provides an insight into the magnitude of food waste; in 2017, homes in Australia generated 2.5 million tons of food waste, representing 34% of total food waste across the entire supply chain. Extending this, consider environmental impacts that include the side effects of plastics and transportation.

From my large refrigerator and kitchen pantry to the barrage of “two for one” specials in the supermarket, the entire ecosystem of food shopping seems to urge me to buy more. Acting irrationally, consumers generally purchase far more food than is needed.

Changing shopper behaviors

Rather than considering food waste as a recycling issue, how might retailers change consumer behavior to be more rational and purchase only as much food as needed – but at the same time remain profitable?

Ultimately, food shoppers are largely budget sensitive. We considered how to change the value statement from “getting more food for less” to “getting the right/better food for the same.”

The circular economy workshops generated some interesting new ideas about leveraging technology to change consumer behavior and improve loyalty to restaurants and supermarkets:

  • Rewarding sufficiency in ordering food by matching community reductions in food waste with donations to local food charities
  • Using data on food use-by dates to encourage households to utilize the product (e.g., suggesting recipes)
  • Provide a “reverse delivery” service for donations to food charities
  • Encouraging smaller, more frequent grocery shops per week through reduced delivery charges
  • Combining food purchase data with food waste data to alert households that they are over-purchasing and offer a “switch out” product such as a “special treat” that might otherwise be excluded as too expensive
  • Food sharing apps in the office when ordering food delivery (e.g., “Anyone want to share my curry?”)

Food production and waste has a major environmental impact; let’s start the discussion, change consumers’ thinking, and reward better decision-making around food sufficiency.

To learn more about SAP Sustainability initiatives, including circular economy and our commitment to ocean plastics, visit the SAP News Channel.


Kathryn Rae

About Kathryn Rae

Kathryn is an experienced innovation leader and manager with over 15 years of experience in consulting, digital business programs, and SaaS product management. As part of the Applied Business Innovation team in Australia and New Zealand, Kathryn specializes in customer experience and business model design, as well as helping organizations apply emerging technologies to impact their business at scale.