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WWF report finds retailers uniquely placed to promote sustainable diets

13 June 2012

A new report published today by WWF-UK, Selling sustainable diets? In search of the retail business case for sustainable diets [1], finds that retailers are ‘uniquely placed’ to promote more sustainable diets, but that there is an urgent need for the Government to develop a clear definition of sustainable diets, and convert this definition into specific dietary guidance.

The research, carried out by Brook Lyndhurst and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, showed that retailers have already adopted a number of initiatives that broadly support more sustainable patterns of food consumption. These include the sustainable sourcing of fish, promoting seasonal fruit and vegetables, and providing green ranges and organic and fair trade products.

The report however also identified a number of barriers preventing retailers from going further on sustainable diets. These included: the risk of advising consumers about sustainable diets without a universally agreed definition of what they are; the lack of a policy or legal imperative to act; limited consumer understanding; and the possibility of “doing the wrong thing”.

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, cross-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 its ground-breaking Livewell Report [2] showed a high degree of overlap between healthy diets and sustainable diets; in others words, what is good for people is good for the planet as well. But the group argued that sustainable food consumption was not the responsibility of retailers or Government alone, but that all stakeholders needed to work together to promote sustainable consumption.

Nevertheless, the report concluded that retailers had a ‘very considerable’ responsibility as, although there may not yet be a clear business case for sustainable diets, retailers had the ability to shape the consumer experience, to control what is and what is not made available, and to sell not just products but lifestyles. WWF said therefore that, unless and until retailers make it straightforward for consumers to buy a sustainable diet, the prospects for radical change are limited.


Notes to editors

1. The report, Selling sustainable diets? In search of the retail business case for sustainable diets, is available here: http://www.wwf.org.uk/research_centre/research_centre_results.cfm?uNewsID=6029

2. WWF’s Livewell Report with the Rowett Institute of Nutrition (January 2011) shows what a sustainable and healthy diet might look like, based on the Government’s own healthy eating advice: http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/livewell_report_corrected.pdf

3. Defra’s Green Food Project is bringing together government, industry and environmental partners to look at how we might reconcile the goals of improving the environment and increasing food production in England. WWF-UK has already highlighted that the Green Food Project does not cover the whole system and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency: http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/food/environment/

4. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation are funding a series of reports by WWF looking at the challenges around boosting sustainability within the UK food system. The previous report, A Square Meal, produced in association with the Food Ethics Council, looked at how encouraging greener eating met the UK government’s ambitions for the environment, farming and society: http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/a_square_meal.pdf

For more information:

George Smeeton, Senior Press Officer WWF-UK
Tel: 01483 412 388, Mob: 07917 052 948, email: GSmeeton@wwf.org.uk

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