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Sparks

Will Ozempic Reduce Food Waste?

Thanks to the appetite-suppressing drug, companies are fretting about food sales. This got me thinking.

An aisle of snack food.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

A year ago, I’d never heard of the diabetes drug Ozempic. Then I read the New York mag article about it, subsequently got messed up by the New York mag article about it, and basically ever since, the appetite-suppressing weight loss drug and its cousins, Wegovy and Mounjaro, have been an inescapable part of the cultural conversation (usually with an unsubtle side of moral panic thrown in). Since the start of the year, I’ve received 252 emails and newsletters that mention Ozempic, including a new one that arrived in my inbox 38 minutes ago.

The latest hysteria has been over what this newly appetite-less consumer base supposedly means for those in the appetite business. Here’s Bloomberg from last weekend:

As sales of appetite-suppressing drugs such as Ozempic and Mounjaro skyrocket, Corporate America is grappling with the question: How does a less-hungry, less-impulse-prone consumer affect my business model? [...]

John Furner, CEO of Walmart’s U.S. operations, recently said the retailer is seeing a “slight pullback in the overall basket” of food purchases as a result of the drugs, but added it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions. Conagra CEO Sean Connolly told investors this week that his company’s scientists are looking at the data, and the maker of Slim Jim and Swiss Miss could offer smaller portions in the coming years if that’s the way preferences evolve.

Separately, a Morgan Stanley report from last week also projected that up to 7% of Americans could be on appetite-suppressant medications by 2035, which could cut their individual daily calorie consumption by up to 30%.

It’s certainly the case that users of the new crop of weight loss drugs say the medications reduce “food noise” (in addition to some truly unpleasant side effects and reports of a loss of the pleasure of eating). “I don’t have cravings anymore. At all,” one woman who uses Wegovy told The New York Times. “It’s the weirdest thing.”

This got me thinking: Could appetite-suppressing drugs reduce food waste?

Food is by far the most common impulse buy, with random cravings and clever grocery store design driving many of our purchases. That said, most American food waste comes in the form of fresh foods — like fruits, vegetables, and mixed dishes — followed by dairy, meat, and then grains. Junk food, with its longer shelf life, makes up less than 10 percent of food waste, the National Post reports.

Still, just desiring less food could curb food waste since you theoretically wouldn’t feel the need to buy excess food in the first place — a shift that is at least implied by the supposedly dampened food sales Walmart is fretting over. That’s not a bad thing: It’s been estimated that 6% to 8% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by ending food waste alone.

And if the proliferation of these drugs drives companies to consider pivoting to smaller portion sizes as a result, that could also be a good thing too (one of my biggest pet peeves is the way grocery store portions cater to larger families, leaving one- and two-person households with too much perishable food). Still, there is always the chance that Ozempic will potentially create more food waste as people continue to shop like they used to, but are inclined to consume less.

One thing’s for sure: Whatever the case may turn out to be, someone’s going to have a strong opinion about it.

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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