The issue of food is a critical one for Defra to address in order to achieve the commitment set out in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy to influence consumption patterns. Looking at environmental factors alone, food is the average household’s number one impact on climate change, accounting for around one third of climate impact. It is clear that this area of consumption must be addressed in order to reduce consumption levels to what is required to achieve one planet living.
The Sustainable Consumption Roundtable was tasked by Government to provide advice on actions and policies to create a shift to more sustainable lifestyles, and this was set out in their report, I Will If You Will, published earlier this year. Using this report and input from the SCP evidence base, Defra have identified five potential behaviour goals:
§ Switching to a diet with lower environmental and social impacts
§ Wasting less food in the home
§ Changing fish consumption behaviour away from uncertified or unsustainable stocks towards certified fish stocks
§ Switching to more seasonal and local food
§ Increasing consumption of certified food and drink such as organic, LEAF marque or Fairtrade
The thinking on what action Defra should take is currently being developed, and will ultimately result in a considered behaviour change strategy covering five key areas, including food, and the SCP Action Plan. In order to inform this strategy and plan, Defra is putting together a robust and substantial evidence base, of which this programme of qualitative research into the public understanding of sustainable food will form part.
It will play two main roles for Defra. Firstly, it is vital for Defra to understand where the public are now in relation to sustainable food, in terms of aspirations, expectations and understanding. Without this knowledge, there is a significant risk that behaviour change or communications initiatives could fail by making assumptions about what people know or are prepared to accept. But it is also important for Defra to gather evidence on the impact of information and explicit discussion of behaviour change in order to understand the triggers and barriers which must be adopted or addressed.
Reflecting this dual aim, the objectives for this programme of work fall into two main areas: exploratory and reactive. Both between and within these areas, the order in which these objectives are addressed will be very important.
The exploratory objectives are to understand:
§ Consumer aspirations around food
§ Influences on current purchase decisions, and where environmental and social factors fit in
§ Consumer perceptions and understanding of ‘good food’, and where sustainability fits within this
§ Current, spontaneous understanding of the concept of sustainable consumption and production of food
§ Expectations of the role played by government, retailers and producers in ensuring the production, supply and consumption of sustainable food
The reactive (or prompted) objectives are to understand:
§ How consumers respond to the idea of sustainable consumption of food, including levels of acceptability and barriers towards the five specific behaviour goals
§ The impact of information:
o Whether and how new information impacts on consumers
o Consumers views on whether and how the provision of information could influence food purchasing decisions e.g. labelling schemes, provision of information on pack or elsewhere
o Responses to product-based case studies
Within this division, the brief clearly identifies which objectives are primary and secondary.
There are also two overarching objectives which cut across the exploratory and responsive objectives:
§ To identify differences in response amongst different groups, likely to be driven by Defra’s segmentation
§ To identify key insights which can inform communication and behaviour change strategies