Supermarket scientists encourage meat free eating

Experts advise on store redesigns in a bid to reduce the amount of meat shoppers buy

Fruit aisle of a supermarket

Scientists from Oxford University are taking a closer look at how animal products impact the health of people and planet, then helping supermarkets redesign their stores with the aim of persuading shoppers to put less meat in their trolleys.

The men and women in white suits will be helping those wearing business suits tweak their business models in order to promote greener eating, with a range of Sainsbury’s stores the first to test drive a number of new ideas. Underlining just how mainstream green eating is becoming, the news arrives as M&S launches its first vegan sandwich range, with two new sarnies – the Super Green (edamame and minted pea) and Rainbow Veg (roasted vegetables with avocado).

Some of the scientific proposals put forward to encourage people to buy less meat include putting the veggie sausages and bean burgers beside their less planet-friendly counterparts, and showering shoppers who choose meat free food with vouchers and loyalty points.

Launched last week, the project is part of the Wellcome Trust’s £5 million Our Planet, Our Health programme, which aims to improve human health while at the same time protecting a world struggling to cope with the effects of climate change. A study in The Lancet in 2015 showed that both issues are linked, meaning dealing with the latter can also address the former.

“Nutritionists, political economists and epidemiologists at Oxford will study how animal foods affect health and the environment and they will then work with Sainsbury’s to present those findings in ways people can understand,” said Sarah Molton, head of Our Planet, Our Health.

The initiative follows on  he heels of another report by Oxford academics, which last year found that levying a tax on animal products – pricing them to reflect more accurately their harmful impact – could reduce meat eating to the extent that 1 billion tonnes of carbon a year would be saved … and 500,000 lives.

“Shoppers can now choose from a much greater variety of produce than they did in the past, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables,” said Judith Batchelar, director of brand at Sainsbury’s. “That gives them a greater opportunity to make meat free choices, which is what we are seeing today. The question is: how can we take that further.”

Answers to that question include suggesting healthier, meat free options for online shoppers who add meat to their e-baskets, and doing away with the supermarket segregation of the “vegetarian aisle” by promoting meat free products alongside the meat. “There are all sorts of things we can do,” Batchelar said, “but we need to do them on a scientific basis, and that is what this project will provide.”