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WWF report: Selling Sustainability? In search of the retail business case for sustainable diets.

This report presents the results of a research exercise commissioned by WWF and conducted by Brook Lyndhurst during the latter part of 2011 and early part of 2012. The research was designed to investigate the business case for retailers to further support and promote sustainable diets.

The research looks at what retailers are currently doing to encourage consumers to make more consumable choices and identifies where there may be a business case for retailer action in this regard.  Having presented evdience on the current state of play by retailers, it develops four hypothetical case studies illustrating initiatives that retailers could adopt in the future.  The report concludes with recommendations to government, NGOs and retailers.

The report finds that for retailers to act, the following conditions need to be in place:

  • Strong scientific evidence and political consensus that a problem exists because of the types of food people are eating.
  • Availability of a clear solution to the problem that can be reasonably implemented by retailers.
  • Stakeholder support for the chosen solution.
  • Action by competitors to address the problem (either acting to pressurise some retailers to act, or encouraging others to seize first mover advantage by tackling the problem early on).
  • Consumer understanding and interest in the issue to be addressed.

Current barriers to retailer action include the following:

  • Reputational risks associated with providing consumers with advice and information about sustainable diets in the absence of a universally agreed definition among stakeholders.
  • Commercial disbenefits of shifting consumption patterns against the grain of consumer demand in the absence of policy requirements to act.
  • Absence of market opportunities for developing more sustainable product lines because of limited consumer demand for such products.
  • Danger of confusing or alienating consumers by engaging with them on the issue of sustainable diets too soon, in case there’s a need to reframe the issue at a later date in the face of emerging scientific evidence or political position on the issue.

The report recommends that government should:

  • Lead the development of a clear definition of a sustainable diet as a priority, in conjunction with other stakeholders, and convert this definition into specific dietary guidance.
  • Evaluate the full suite of policy tools available to facilitate changes in consumption patterns and use this insight to outline specific policy objectives that implicate the business sector (including retail and food service).
  • Identify policy measures to buffer negative industry impacts that might arise from  wholesale changes in diets as a result of action by retailers and food service businesses.

Retailers should:

  • Monitor and influence consumer sentiment with respect to sustainable diets, and work with other stakeholders to do this.
  • Actively participate in discussions about sustainable diet, rather than watching and waiting for others’ views to emerge.
  • Share their knowledge and experience of influencing consumption behaviours with respect to sustainability to inform the development of future policy interventions, including ones that will affect the commercial viability of different options.
  • Stimulate the development of new sustainability initiatives internally by raising the profile of the agenda across the business.
  • Encourage innovation among suppliers to develop a wider range of more sustainable product offerings.


You can download the report here.

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