Underlagsrapport 2020:4 Metoder för att ändra kostvanor

This report aims at providing an overview of various methods that can be used to influence people’s diets. Given the negative environmental impact and potentially negative health effects that may be associated with the consumption of animal foods, this report focuses on methods for reducing the consumption of these foods, especially red meat. In addition to identifying overall methods, we zoom in on a number of concrete behavioral measures that have been made or could be done in a Swedish context.

To select and analyze different methods, we have consulted the scientific literature, mainly from psychology, behavioral economics and economics, thereby identifying broad categories of methods that can be used to change people’s food consumption. The methods described in the report are listed below:
• Information to consumers
• Nudging
• Spread of good examples
• Education and tools for key players
• Change supply (choice editing and expanded assortment of vegetarian options)
•Economic instruments

For each of these methods that have been implemented in Sweden or internationally we thereafter identified a number of concrete behavioral measures in collaboration with the Swedish Consumer Agency. The behavioral measures that we focus on in the report were selected to cover a broad selection in terms of expected effectiveness and feasibility of implementation.

We also wanted to ensure to cover a large number of players in the food system, which means that some of the measures described may not be the most effective but can be implemented with ease and without major costs or negative side effects. Other measures, on the other hand, are likely to face a “greater friction” in the implementation phase. Put differently, they may imply potential risks for companies and politicians, for example in the form of financial losses or lack of public acceptance. However, these measures are expected to be more effective in reducing the consumption of animal source foods and affect the food system on a more fundamental level. The majority of the measures we have focused on in this report have aimed at reducing red meat consumption. For some methods, for which we could not find a case applied to consumption of animal source foods, the aim of the intervention has been another behavioral shift such as reduced consumption of sugar.

Interviews have been held with representatives of the behavioral measures and initiatives we have chosen to focus on to better understand successful and less successful examples. We would like to emphasize that we have not conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature, nor systematically identified all ongoing and completed concrete measures aiming to reduce the consumption of animal source food in Sweden or elsewhere.

The scientific literature, together with the case studies, demonstrates a broad portfolio of measures that the various actors in the food system can pick from, try out and implement. Among the measures we believe are the most effective but also more challenging to implement are economic instruments such as a carbon tax on food, as well as choice editing/choice restrictions in the retail and restaurant sectors. For both these types of measures, the risk of public resistance is relatively high and, in the case of limited supply, loss of market shares and customers. For these types of measures, it is also important to develop strategies to reduce the risk that consumption of (better) meat becomes a matter of individual purchasing power and socio-economic background.

Furthermore, there is a cluster of initiatives that are relatively easy for actors to implement. These include information to consumers (e.g. consumer guides, and carbon labeling) and nudging in stores and in restaurants (e.g. in the form of a vegetarian daily special (default) with the option of adding meat).

The scientific literature indicates that the effectiveness of these types of measures potentially are relatively limited and that it is important to be aware that they alone most likely will not contribute to a food system transformation. However, the advantage of these methods is that they can be easily implemented at a relatively low cost. It is also possible that these could play an important role if they are introduced in conjunction with ‘harder’ measures (such as taxes, subsidies, or choice restrictions) for a fundamental societal shift of the share of plant based protein on our plates.

A third group of behavioral measures can be distinguished from the material. These are not aimed directly at consumers but appears to be more indirect in influencing people’s consumption. They include education and training of key players such as school chefs, cross-sectoral agreements that can create the conditions for other measures to succeed, as well as good examples that can stimulate a shift in norms. From the scientific literature review and case studies, we have drawn a number of overall conclusions:

• Two actors that stand out as particularly important for a dietary shift and a reduction in animal source food consumption are the state, and the retail sector, including individual grocery stores. • State interventions we see as especially promising are: 1. a clearly stated national target for meat consumption, 2. work for harder measures and interventions that can generate long lasting effects and provide clear signals and incentives for a transformation of the food system and all its actors, 3. an informative labeling of greenhouse gas emissions of different foods would also give a clear signal, albeit not as effective as harder interventions.

• The retail sector is another key player that we believe could intensify its work to reduce the environmental impact of the food sold. For example, retailers and grocery stores could: 1. welcome cross-sectoral agreements to allow limited marketing of meat and choice restrictions where the worst products from an environmental perspective are taken off the shelves, 2. expand their work on using ‘soft methods’ such as nudging and labeling, both in physical stores and online stores in order to reduce red meat consumption, 3. facilitate for subcontractors and food companies who are willing to invest in novel and innovative plant-based alternatives.

• We also see great potential to change food served in the public sector, especially in school and preschool kitchens. Promising initiatives mentioned in the report could be scaled up more easily if there are more meeting places between municipalities.

• Finally, our analysis points at the importance of a system-thinking. Some of the measures can pave the way for others to succeed, such as a cross-industry agreement that may facilitate retailers and grocery stores to implement other measures. There are also examples of when the presence of a one type of behavioral measure, such as a softer one, may have unintended consequences, e.g. harder measures being perceived as not needed, which in turn affect their acceptance. To change the entire food system, increased knowledge and research on the interactions of different types of behavioral interventions is thus needed.

Malin Jonell and Therese Lindahl. 2020. Underlagsrapport 2020:4 Metoder för att ändra kostvanor. Konsumentverket .