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UK Defra food behaviors

Consumer food related behaviors that impact on sustainability

This UK Defra commissioned project was designed to create a rapid evidence assessment of literature relating to the role food behaviors and practices play in the sustainability of the UK food system. Defra set out to understand where existing food related behaviors might be influenced and where Government, Commerce and Civil Society might be used as levers of change towards a more sustainable food culture.

The project synthesized an extensive evidence base including international case studies. The literature was reviewed over a 12 week period, using a dual Hotspotting and Trendspotting methodology in order to identify the drivers and impacts of current food behaviors and likely barriers to change. In addition to assessing environmental impacts (Hotspots methodology) the Trendspot analysis was developed to identify the role of context, social norms and values in relation to dominant food behaviors.

Defra food behaviors infographic on different variables

The report detailed a range of existing and suggested interventions that might be deployed in pursuit of behavior change towards more sustainable food futures. The themes covered within the report included: breakfast, ready meals, fast food and cooking from scratch, as well as food connections. The report includes an illustrative roadmap highlighting potential ways to identify and deploy a range of interventions which might influence food behaviours within the UK.

Working beyond the usual sustainable diet conversations and focusing on the sociology, psychology and behavioral aspects of a sustainable food future was an exciting and challenging brief for the team. The findings of the study provide vital evidence that can be put to effective use in plugging evidence gaps and building a solid roadmap to deliver behavior change to enhance long term social, environmental and economic wellbeing.

This report was peer reviewed by members of Manchester Sustainable Consumption Institute and University of Surrey Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group. The July 2013 ‘Sustainable Consumption Report: Follow-Up to the Green Food Project’ was supported by evidence from this project.


  1. Hotspots are the assessment of product, service or ingredient level environmental impacts on either a narrow spectrum (focus on single metrics e.g. carbon), or a more wide-ranging one (to include biodiversity, water, waste, land use, etc.).
  2. The Trendspotting approach is a new methodology developed to assess an evidence base through the lens of cultural and societal norms. Trendspots consider: Access: physical, psychological and financial drivers driving current behavioural trends/inhibitors to change. Appeal: prevailing, emerging or changing attitudes impacting current behavioral trends. Awareness: Education, knowledge (gaps) and ‘passed-on’ wisdom concerning current behavioral trends.

This work by Anthesis is a very useful contribution to the thorny challenges of understanding and seeking to influence sustainable food behaviors. It helped inform our thinking in the consumer behaviors working group of the Green Food Project’s consumption phase. The report contains lots of valuable material and insights that should be built on by Government, business and civil society looking to promote positive behaviors in ways that people accept and respond positively to.

– Dan Crossley, Executive Director, Food Ethics Council

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