Academic and research departmentsCentre for Environment and Sustainability.
My research project
How can food retailers support their customers in adopting more sustainable diets?
Behavioural science has shown that nudges can influence consumer purchasing and eating decisions without restricting choice or freewill. There are ways in which we can change the choice architecture – the immediate setting and framing of products – in a retail setting to promote certain choices that benefit the customer. Although a powerful strategy to influence decision-making, evidence shows that people revert back to old habits as soon as these interventions are removed. The scale and urgency of the challenge means we need to change behaviour over the long-term, getting people to think differently about the food they eat, as well as making better choices in-store. It’s only through changing attitudes and values, as well as how people spend their money, that we’ll truly ensure the uptake of sustainable diets in the UK.
Giving customers agency in their decisions can improve the customer experience – working with them rather than just making decisions on their behalf without informing them, which can lead to distrust and frustration. What’s more, studies have shown that people are more open to change if they understand why it’s necessary.
Using some of WWF’s corporate partnerships as a testbed, this project will look to test the application of behavioural science in a UK retail setting, to drive demand and increased consumption of sustainable food products in different environments. It will look to identify tangible and impactful mechanisms by which food retailers can support customers in shifting from high impact proteins (meat and dairy) to low impact proteins (plant-based), through investigating:
- Which interventions work in practice to change consumption in a retail setting (online, small store, large store)?
- Which intervention combinations work for which demographic groups, and in which settings (online, small store, large store)?
- Does customer engagement increase the effectiveness of nudge interventions?
Retailers can play an important role in facilitating a transition to sustainable diets in the UK. They have been implementing strategies aimed at helping customers make healthier choices and are now considering how to broaden this to include sustainability, which is a live discussion in the UK retail sector. Focusing on ‘less and better’ meat and dairy as a core component of sustainable diets, this study investigates retailer perceptions of sustainable diets and their strategies and challenges to provide and promote customer purchasing of ‘less and better’ meat and dairy. Results from a series of semi-structured interviews with senior health and sustainability professionals within the UK retail sector indicate that retailers have a diverse understanding of sustainable diets that seldom includes ‘less and better’ meat and dairy. Retailers are adopting a range of different strategies linked to ‘less and better’ meat and dairy – from improving the sustainability of their meat and dairy supply chains to influencing customer purchasing through ‘nudge’ interventions. While strategies related to ‘better’ meat and dairy are being adopted, no retailer is implementing interventions focused on reducing purchasing of meat products. The promotion of sustainable diets is seen by some retailers as a way of positively engaging with customers and improving brand loyalty, but there are external barriers to reducing purchasing of meat and dairy products that are beyond the direct control of the retailer.