The year Australians got back to basics to appreciate food security and embrace home cooking has also produced a disturbing kitchen setback.
The thriving cook-at-home "meal kit" trend and other home delivered food buying habits during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in households actually wasting almost 13 per cent of food and groceries they bought.
According to Rabobank research, nearly a quarter of all homes increased spending on food this year, some of which was stockpiled in the pantry.
But record amounts were left uneaten and tossed out.
Until the pandemic Australians had managed to reverse previous food waste trends, with annual wastage dropping almost two percentage points to 11.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2020.
However, by September wastefulness had jumped to 12.7pc, taking this year's national annual household food waste bill to $10.3 billion - up from $8.6b in 2019.
The reason was partly due to a surge in food being prepared at home during months of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.
About 46pc of the almost 2400 respondents to Rabobank's twice-yearly survey believed they were throwing away more food because they had cooked at home more often, while 37pc were "experimenting more" with different recipes and different baking options - which clearly didn't always taste so good.
Deliveries most wasted
Alarmingly, individuals who used food delivery services such as home delivered takeaways or cook-at-home kits reported throwing out twice as much as those who did not rely on pre-cooked or semi-prepared menus.
Meal kit usage jumped from 28pc prior to the pandemic to 36pc by September, while the number of respondents getting any sort of meal deliveries at least once a week shot up from 9pc to 25pc.
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"This is a real watch out for consumers," said Rabobank's client experience head, Glenn Wealands.
The overall average household value of wasted food subsequently hit an all-time high of $1043.
Mr Wealands said while it was no big surprise food waste was "de-prioritised during a stressful year" when attention was on other urgent issues, Australians needed to understand the impact of minimising waste across the entire food chain was far greater than just hip pocket savings.
Ignoring global impact
Although 78pc of respondents were annoyed when they saw food wasted, he said less than a quarter of respondents were concerned with the connection between such waste and wider environmental impacts such as water shortages, pollution or climate change.
"Our research shows consumers are working harder than ever to keep their finances in check, so it's especially important for those ordering pre-prepared meals to be mindful that unless you're using these services wisely it's bad for your wallet and bad for reducing food waste.
"If we all do our bit, we can have a huge impact on the amount of food wasted and a more sustainable future."
The COVID-19 era trends particularly disturbed South Australian food businesswoman Kelly Johnson, who two years ago stumbled into a thriving market for pre-prepared dehydrated meals using fruit and vegetables which previously would have been destined for landfill or stockfeed.
"It's quite annoying that although more people are cooking and eating at home they're throwing out more food - possibly because the meal preparation process itself creates leftovers," she said.
Crop recycler rewarded
Ms Johnson's Woodlane Orchard has just been named one of the top 10 finalists in a Business Australia program recognising innovation and resilience and an ability to thrive despite 2020's adverse business conditions.
The micro business, run from her home kitchen at Mypolonga in the Lower Murray, buys surplus or damaged produce including citrus, cherry tomatoes and potatoes, to transform into dehydrated shelf-stable, preservative-free meals.
What started as an opportunity to use edible unsold produce from neighbouring farms has converted 20 tonnes of fresh product into meals sold in 14 outlets across the state this year, with overseas interest emerging too.
The boom in road trip travel within Australia has also generated a particularly strong market for Woodlane products.
Ms Johnson's dehydrated food range appeared to be popular because consumers at home, or in the camper van, did not have to do any real preparation effort, except adding water, or maybe meat, and there was no waste.
That contrasted starkly with what seemed like a surprising volume of produce and other ingredients in boxed home delivery meal kits which was left to waste.