The Paradox of a Pandemic: How Infectious and Restriction Saliences Shape Consumer Food Waste Behaviors

Prof. Huachao GAO
Associate Professor, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria

Date: 24 May 2024 (Friday)
Time: 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Venue: E22-G015
Host: Prof. Fangyuan CHEN, Associate Professor in Marketing


Consumer food waste, with its vast social, economic, and environmental implications, has been spotlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted food supply chains and heightened food insecurity. This study delineates the contrasting effects of infectious salience and restriction salience on food waste behavior. We find that infectious salience tends to increase food waste due to a heightened safety mindset, whereas restriction salience reduces waste by inducing a scarcity mindset. To address these dynamics, we propose and evaluate interventions that leverage the notion of resource scarcity and the financial consequences of wasted resources to decrease food waste during pandemic conditions. Additionally, we introduce a safety-focused intervention designed to neutralize the excessive safety mindset driven by infectious salience. Our empirical investigation includes a comprehensive field study, analysis of a secondary dataset, a laboratory experiment focused on actual food waste behavior, and three auxiliary experiments, all of which substantiate our conceptual model. These varied methodologies highlight the effectiveness of safety interventions implemented through different mediums, such as table tents, napkins, and to-go containers. This research harmonizes conflicting views on pandemic-induced changes in food waste, deepens the theoretical understanding of pandemic-related food waste phenomena, and suggests practical approaches for marketers and policymakers to curb consumer food waste in the context of pandemics.



Prof. GAO currently serves as an associate professor of marketing and international business at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria. Using consumer identity as a theoretical perspective, Huachao’s research examines how various consumer identity (e.g., cross-cultural identity, global versus local identity, gender identity) impacts a wide range of consumer behaviors such as luxury consumption, acceptance of price increases, educational choices and food waste. His research articles have appeared in leading marketing journals including Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, and The Journal of Academy and Marketing Science. Huachao also contributes significantly to the academic community through his services on editorial review boards for the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Business Research, and Journal of Consumer Behavior.

 All are welcome!