Navigating the Aisles: How Retailers Can Shape More Sustainable and Nutritious Shopping Baskets?

Nutrition and environmental practices are currently disharmonious and our food system fragile and vulnerable. How do we define sustainable nutrition? How can retailers help us all shift to a more sustainable and healthier diet, and diversify our diets? And what role can meat and dairy alternatives play in assisting in the vital shift?

By Laura Street, Registered Nutritionist

As with most diet and health-related questions, a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle is always the starting point - but this doesn’t make for enticing social media headlines or snappy Tik Toks. Social media is where 47.6% of consumers are obtaining their health advice from1 and the average purchase decision process in retail takes only 13 seconds.2 The importance of nutrition and environmental issues are high profile today, but our actions on each are often distinct rather than holistic. In today’s ultra-competitive attention economy how can retailers support sustainable nutrition?

Why does sustainable nutrition matter?

• From hunger to obesity, every form of malnutrition has become worse since the Covid-19 Pandemic.3
• Globally, 768 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, with 1 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet.3
• 40% of all adults and 20% of all children worldwide are now overweight or obese and these numbers are rising along with diet-related non-communicable diseases.3
• Our current eating habits around the world fall short of meeting the minimum standards for healthy and sustainable diets.3
• Intensive farming has been linked to wildlife loss, water and soil pollution and poor animal welfare.4

What constitutes sustainable nutrition?

How can you work towards an undefined goal? Retailers, manufacturers and suppliers across the food industry have been working to understand and define sustainable nutrition – an important enabler for measuring and reporting progress. However, the term is challenging to define due to the complexities of combining nutrition and sustainability, each are broad and intricate topics in their own right. Different factors need to be considered for each food type - think how different fishing is from growing nuts! There are sustainable practises to be considered throughout our fragile and vulnerable food system, from farming, sourcing, production, packaging right through to distribution and merchandising.
And that’s not all -there are planetary factors being impacted too! Food production contributes 15-30% of total greenhouse gas emissions5, is a leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and soil and water pollution5, and unsustainable fishing practices have led to the marine vertebrate population being halved and the marine ecosystem being damaged.5 To support sustainable farming, the UK Government introduced a roadmap to sustainable farming in 2021.6
Methods to improve sustainability of our global food system through changes to our food production and diet continues to be debated.7

British Dietetic Association’s (BDA) One Blue Dot

The BDA One Blue Dot project tried to address this challenge by creating a simple nine-point plan aimed at setting some clear guidelines for those who want to eat a healthy and sustainable diet to follow. This environmentally sustainable diets nine-point plan includes:5

  1. Reducing red and processed meat to at most 70g per person per day (this also aligns with the World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendation).

  2. Increasing consumption of plant proteins such as beans, nuts, soya and tofu and fungi-based proteins such as mycoprotein.

  3. Only consuming fish from sustainable sources, and from a wider variety of species.

  4. Moderating dairy consumption, and using fortified alternatives where needed.

  5. Focusing on wholegrain, starchy carbohydrate sources.

  6. Opting for seasonal, locally sourced vegetables/fruit. Avoiding air freighted, pre-packed and prepared vegetables/fruit.

  7. Reducing consumption of high fat, sugar, salt foods.

  8. Making tap water and unsweetened tea/coffee the choice for healthy hydration.

  9. Reducing food waste, especially of perishable fruit and veg by choosing tinned/frozen alongside seasonal fresh produce.

These nine actionable points make the task of protecting the planet more tangible, and they clarify where we can focus our efforts as health care professionals in all settings, to empower people to make sustainable nutritious changes to their diets. So how can retailers leverage this plan to support their customers?

What is the retailers’ role in supporting sustainable nutrition?

Less than 1% of the population7 eat in line with the UK Government’s Eatwell Guide8 - if we all did, we would be consuming a healthier and more sustainable diet than we do at present.7 Retailers can help by offering more affordable healthy foods including fruit and vegetables, and making these foods appealing with responsible marketing messages (including on social media) and inspiring scratch cooking.

The trend of eating more protein is set to grow in 2024. Consumers are looking for protein options other than meat and eggs, which might be better for the planet9, and sustainable-nutrition-conscious shoppers are making an effort to buy seasonal and local produce. It is important that retailers offer balanced and varied foods, at affordable prices (particularly important during the cost-of-living crisis), including appetising and convenient meat- and dairy- alternatives.

What role does a retail nutritionist/dietitian play?

A nutritionist/dietitian in retail has a pivotal role and is the linchpin in joining together the evidence base for sustainable nutrition, creating practical and achievable guidelines and ambitious targets for both product development or reformulation. In fact, we are seeing nutrition and sustainability roles in some retailers and manufacturers merging into the same role. Their role is also crucial in keeping their colleagues up-to-date as sustainable nutrition evolves and provide practical resources, weaving sustainable nutrition information throughout marketing materials that are appropriate to the business, product/s and to inspire and nudge their shoppers.

The top three things that a retail nutritionist should do to support sustainable nutrition are:

• Stay close to science and an aligned definition of sustainable diets.

• Ensure that sustainable and nutrition guidelines are built into policy and good practise guidelines and the business strategy.

• Educate their colleagues on sustainable nutrition where needed and ensure that colleagues are kept abreast as sustainable nutrition evolves.

Key ingredients in sustainable nutrition

Vegetables, legumes and pulses (beans and lentils), fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, soya and mycoprotein are excellent examples of foods that contribute to healthy and sustainable diets. Diets containing less meat and more plant- and fungi-derived foods can lower greenhouse gas emissions by ~20-50%, reduce land use* and improve the health of the population.6 Beans and mycoprotein can be important contributors to diet variety and diversity, providing high fibre and protein. Although these foods have been on our shelves for a long time, retailers are seeing the popularity of beans rise with increase in sales and this trend is set to continue,10 as a result of their affordability, long shelf-life, versatility, sustainable production and people’s growing awareness of how good they are for them and how to cook them (For some foodie inspiration, browse the recipe collection on Quorn Nutrition).

What about meat and dairy alternatives?

The range of plant-based and fungi-based products has exploded in the UK over the last 5 years, but not all of these products have stood the test of time or contributed to sustainable and nutritious diets. Ideally, meat- or dairy-alterative products should provide a similar nutrient profile to the food they replace. Fortification is extremely important, especially in categories such as the milk-alternative drinks category, as the original dairy products are key dietary sources of calcium and iodine. This is particularly important for children who consume these products as part of a plant-based diet, or for allergen avoidance reasons because of the vital role key nutrients play in growth and development. Retailers’ have an important societal role to play in making these foods accessible to all in order to drive change.11 This shouldn’t exclude any foods, but instead seek to inspire people to consume delicious, affordable foods with sustainable and nutritious ingredients that we aren’t eating enough of. Consumers want these foods; fifty-two percent of red meat/poultry eaters say they would buy meat substitutes that are cheaper than meat9 and 42% of people agree that information on their environmental impact would make meat substitutes more appealing.9

Future of sustainable nutrition

The need for sustainable nutrition is evident from a health and a planetary point of view. Retailers, manufacturers and producers will stay close to the consumer trends and science as sustainable nutrition research evolves to inform their new product development. Consumers want retailers to make sustainable nutrition accessible, affordable and delicious. How can we make more noise for credible evidence-based sustainable nutrition on social media to help get the message out there? Which new products will be developed in the next 5 years, and will we be eating more healthily and sustainably in 5 years than we do now? We all have a part to play, what are your top sustainable nutrition tips for your patients and clients?

Key Takeouts for Retailers

Offer more affordable healthy choices that encourage a consumption pattern of the Eatwell Guide

Make healthy food the more appealing choice

Use responsible marketing messages including on social media

Encourage and inspire cooking from scratch

Utilise the consumer trends towards protein to promote greater protein diversity

Include a varied and affordable range of nutritious meat and dairy alternatives

Continue to work with other retailers and manufacturers to find a holistic and unified definition for sustainable nutrition

Stay close to both consumer trends and science to inform new product development

*Although may not reduce the water footprint

About the author:

Laura Street, Registered Nutritionist and founder of Laura Street Nutrition Consultancy, has a distinguished career in nutrition leadership within retail and food manufacturing, having led the nutrition teams at Marks & Spencer and Kellogg (UKI market) with a focus on strategy and policy. She has a proven track record, most recently having worked at the British Nutrition Foundation managing a project exploring the nutrition needs of the military. She has a specialism in sports nutrition and previously worked for England Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby clubs for 5 years. Laura is also Registrar and Trustee for the Association for Nutrition, supporting fellow Registered Nutritionists and building the credibility of the profession.

¹Zdru, R (2022) Health influencer marketing: 20% trust influencers over specialists. Sortlist Data Hub Health Influencer Marketing: 20% Trust Influencers Over Specialists (
²Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science (2018) The Power of real-world testing The power of real-world testing | Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science
³Global Nutrition Report. 2022 Global Nutrition Report: Stronger commitments for greater action. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives, 2022 ( 2022 Global Nutrition Report - Global Nutrition Report )
Friend of the Earth (2024) How does farming affect our environment? Food production and sustainable farming | Friends of the Earth
The British Dietetic Association (2019) One Blue Dot – the BDA’s Environmentally Sustainable Diet Project One Blue Dot - the BDA's Environmentally Sustainable Diet Project
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Natural England and Eustice, G MP (2020) The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024. The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024 (
Steenson, S. & Buttriss, J.L. (2021) Healthier and more sustainable diets: What changes are needed in high-income countries? Nutrition Bulletin, 46, 279-309
Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (2016) The Eatwell Guide The Eatwell Guide - GOV.UK (
Mintel (2023) UK Meat Substitutes Market Report 2022 UK Meat Substitutes Market Report 2022 - Market Forecast (
¹⁰Waitrose & Partners Food and Drink Report 2023-2024
¹¹Kantar (2023) Insights into Healthy Sustainable Diets In The UK Through A Consumer Lens, S. Ball, Kantar Presentation at the British Nutrition Foundation Conference 7.11.23
Kantar Insights into Healthy Sustainable Diets

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