The charity has today (13 June) released new research, carried out by Brook Lyndhurst and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which concluded that retailers are in a “unique position” to shape consumer dietary choices.
The report found that retailers could potentially alter consumption patterns by providing more information about the impacts of different food products, offering and promoting more ‘sustainable’ offerings, and restricting the provision of ‘less sustainable’ options.
However, it identified a number of barriers to supermarkets taking action, including the lack of a universally agreed definition of what a sustainable diet is, the lack of a policy or legal imperative to act and limited consumer understanding.
It stated that if retailers were to be persuaded to proactively influence food consumption patterns, the government would need to develop a clear food strategy and lead the development of a stakeholder agreement on what a sustainable diet is.
Mark Driscoll, head of the one planet food programme at WWF-UK, said “Retailers are uniquely placed to promote more sustainable diets, due to their size, expertise in sales and marketing and their position at the heart of the UK’s food system. But, without a clear definition of what a sustainable diet is, it’s understandable that they’re wary of promoting them.
“The government really needs to take the lead on this by developing a clear definition of a sustainable diet and a comprehensive, crss-departmental food strategy. Sustainable dietary advice then needs to be promoted to consumers in the same way that advice on healthy eating is.”
WWF said that by promoting ‘sustainable’ diets, retailers and the government would also help improve the health of consumers, claiming that its 2011 Livewell Report had shown there was a high degree of overlap between ‘healthy’ diets and ‘sustainable’ diets.
The Livewell Report, which was produced by the Rowett Institute of Nutrition, recommended a diet consisting of 35% vegetables, 29% starchy carbohydrates, 15% dairy products and just 4% meat, with a further 8.3% of protein coming from fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and beans and pulses.