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Majority of UK consumers believe adopting a more sustainable way of eating is now urgent

Almost three-quarters of consumers believe adopting a more sustainable way of eating is now urgent according to the results of Sodexo UK and Ireland’s first annual Sustainable Food Barometer, which surveyed more than a thousand UK consumers.

The study, which identifies the change levers and barriers to accelerate change towards more sustainable diets has presented three key takeaways.

1 The awareness of the urgent need to change eating habits is not only well-established, but positively perceived.

Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) believe that adopting a more sustainable way of eating is urgent. Thirty-six per cent said they first look at price, while 16 per cent said that taste is their primary concern. Environmental impact was only ranked by four per cent by consumers as the factor they pay most attention to when shopping for groceries.

2 There is a gap between aspirations and actual behaviours.

Seventy-nine per cent said they could, or already do, buy local products wherever possible, but just 35 per cent currently consume sustainably produced products whenever possible. Four in five respondents (80 per cent) said they could, or already do, avoid plastic packaging, but just 52 per cent said they do this currently.

3 The benefits of sustainable food are more motivating when perceived as individual, rather than collective.

The survey states that convincing people to adopt more sustainable eating habits means demonstrating the individual benefits regarding health, taste, and savings. Lower numbers said they could or already have stopped eating animal proteins in favour of plant proteins (58 per cent), although 68 per cent said they are currently regular consumers of meat and 82 per cent said they are regular consumers of dairy products.

When asked what reason might make them more inclined to adopt a sustainable diet, the most popular response related to it having a beneficial effect on their health (37 per cent). This was closely followed by financial reasons (36 per cent). While, it is clear that these individual benefits are the most motivating, 28 per cent referenced a fear of worsening climate change and 23 per cent of respondents cited their reason as being a role model for their children and future generations so that they naturally adopt the right behaviours.

The Sustainable Food Barometer also examined attitudes to eating when out of home. UK respondents indicated that they would like to eat more sustainably when they are at school or university (65 per cent); at a restaurant (54 per cent); at a work restaurant (50 per cent); or at a sporting or cultural event (47 per cent), than they do at home.

In recognition of this, Sodexo – which serves around one million meals per day across diverse environments from offices and schools to military bases and hospitals – has pledged that by 2030, 70 per cent of all main meals it produces in the UK will be low-carbon and that it will cut its food waste by 50 per cent by 2025.

External studies indicate that an average meal today accounts for between 2 and 2.5kg CO2e which is in contrast to Sodexo’s targeted low-carbon meals that have a footprint of just 0.9kg CO2e, a definition determined in collaboration with WWF.

Charles Abraham, Food Director at Sodexo UK & Ireland, commented: “Food systems have an enormous impact on climate change, accounting for a third of global GHG emissions. At Sodexo, we understand the crucial role we play in reshaping the nation’s eating habits to help reduce this.

”This is, however, more complex than simply cutting the carbon in some of our menu items. As the research shows, price and taste are still the primary drivers of choice when it comes to food.

“Producing a ‘sustainable meal option’ that is perceived as less appealing or more expensive for the consumer will have the unintended consequence of creating food waste when few people choose it.”

Earlier this month, Sodexo UK & Ireland announced another year-on-year increase in the consumption of meat-free meals across its clients’ sites.

About Sarah OBeirne

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