Knowledge for better food systems

Consumer food related behaviours that impact on sustainability

This evidence review, commissioned by DEFRA and undertaken by the consultancy Best Foot Forward, critically assesses and summarises data around two key objectives:

  • What are the ‘hotspots’ (i.e. points of greatest environmental impact) along the food consumer journey?
  • What mechanisms are available and most effective for influencing consumer behaviour at those hotspots?

This evidence review specifically addresses the topic of non-food-specific food-related behaviours. The focus is therefore on behaviours, rather than food-specific dietary choices. Whereas a study into sustainable diets might be concerned with the impacts of ‘dietary’ choice, e.g. meat vs. vegetarian ingredients, this research focuses on the sustainability of the food practice in isolation. It studied the relative (social, environmental and economic) sustainability merits or demerits pertaining to the practice of in-home from scratch meal preparation and the consumption of fast food or pre-prepared ready meals.   

The report outlines suggested routes towards the more detailed development and subsequent delivery of a comprehensive roadmap which might catalyse more sustainable food-related practices. Gaps in evidence where future research should be focused are also highlighted.

The final project report can be downloaded by following this link. The executive summary can be found here.  The DEFRA website provides a short overview of the publication and links here.

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:

Add comment

Member input

Plain text

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


kaaring's picture
Submitted by kaaring (not verified) on

Are we talking frozen, chilled or ambient ready meals?

This report appears to disregard that nutrition information is provided on chilled ready meals as a matter of course, yet claims that cooked-from-scratch meals are for unspecified reason ranked higher for 'health' and 'wellbeing'.

JL_Wilson's picture
Submitted by JL_Wilson (not verified) on


In regards to your query and comment above I hope the following will provide clarity.

In regards to your query on the type of ready meals referred to (chilled, frozen or ambient); the brief of the report was to specifically look at food behaviours at a top level and not to focus on specific food choices. The brief to look at behaviours and all that they entail (food practices, moments, social and cultural norms) was key to this project because if we linked any behaviour too strongly to specific food choices, e.g. chilled ready meals, cereals or organic beef burgers, the focus shifts away from the behaviours and their drivers to the specific impacts associated with the food choice. However we recognised that food behaviours are closely linked to food choices and we applied a dual methodology: hotpsots (assessing the environmental impacts of proxy food products) and trendspots to assess the drivers of the food behaviours. In regards to the ready meal hotspot included within the report, this is based on Defra's 2008 PAS2050 Cottage Pie Ready Meal Case Study (FO0404), which does not state whether the Ready Meal is frozen, chilled or ambient presumably due to the relatively small difference between these types when considering the life cycle impacts.. 

To address your query on the review of nutritional labelling on ready meals and the conclusions in the cooking from scratch section, as this project was an evidence synthesis the conclusions reached and included within the report are solely based on the evidence reviewed during our 12 week time frame and presented by our primary and secondary research terms. The literature reviewed presented ready meals and cooking from scratch in a polarised manner with the predominant focus on the difference between cooking practices, i.e. cooking from scratch requires the use of raw ingredients, skills to prepare and cook a meal, time dedicated to cooking etc all of which promotes positive health, mental and physical wellbeing. If the scope and scale of the project had been broader the role of nutrition labelling may have been captured in more depth, however as a currrent evidence synthesis this topic did not occur on a scale or with high enough frequency to be included within the report.

I hope this helps. If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact me directly.

Jennifer Wilson, Best Foot Forward




While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

View global articles

Doc Type