How Behavioural Insights Can Support the Shift Toward More Sustainable and Healthier Food Consumption Patterns

What ends up on our dining table has a direct impact on the environment. Growing concerns related to the consumption of high-footprint food urge for more action in promoting healthier and more sustainable consumption patterns. A better understanding of consumer behaviours and choices is pivotal for the success and effectiveness of policies, business innovations, and other interventions in food systems. The VALUMICS report ‘Putting solutions on the table’ provides insights on behaviourally-informed interventions that can have a positive impact.

Traditionally, efforts to shift food purchasing and consumption toward more sustainability have been based on classical persuasion and information-based interventions and strategies. Such efforts have positively contributed to increasing consumers’ awareness. However, beyond that, they have not managed to support a real shift from the Europeans’ carbon-intensive eating patterns.

Challenging longstanding premises of humans as solely rational decision makers, behavioural insights suggest that instead of optimising the information available, consumers often opt for mental shortcuts when making decisions, including food purchasing choices. Having to choose between price, nutritional value, taste, origin or sustainability performance, consumers often simply opt for the easiest choice and base their decision on a few criteria. For example either price, taste or even appearance, and/or are guided by other factors such as habits, social norms or product availability and arrangement. Accordingly, for more effective outcomes, strategies that promote the uptake of sustainable food consumption should be based on and consider the actual behavioural patterns of consumers.

Building on such findings, the VALUMICS report ‘Putting solutions on the table’ provides insights on behaviourally-informed interventions that aim to support the food industry actors, policymakers and governments as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) to promote sustainable food consumption. The report describes how behavioural insights are helpful in driving consumers into sustainable food consumption and highlights practical behavioural interventions that have supported such shifts. These interventions are clustered according to the behavioural approaches they are based on, namely, simplifying the information regarding sustainable food items, improving framing information to enhance the acceptance and implementation of a suggested behaviour, enhancing the physical environment of sustainable food items, changing the default option, making sustainable food consumption the norm, and priming.

For example, a pizza restaurant in Italy managed to reduce food waste at the point of purchase by making takeaway bags of unfinished food the default option, leading to an increased customer demand for the service by 44% two weeks into the experiment. The report highlights this and numerous such interventions based on behaviour insights that have shown positive impact and have the potential to be taken up and upscaled.

The report ‘Putting solutions on the table’ is the second in a series of VALUMICS publications focusing on food consumption analysis. The first report brings together information on the determinants that influence and drive European food consumption patterns. The upcoming reports look at multi-stakeholder recommendations toward more sustainable food consumption, and food retailer interventions to support this shift.

To read more about behavioural insights and interventions that could guide consumers towards more sustainable food purchases, please read the full report here.

For further questions, please contact Cristina Fedato.