How can people’s diets be made more healthy and more sustainable? In the out of home market consumers eat more greens when they are offered a larger quantity. Several studies of the public-private partnership Food Value Impact showed that presentation and a good taste are key.

Most people in the Netherlands eat less vegetables than recommended. In March 2016, the daily recommendation was raised from 200 grams to 250 grams daily. However, the intake of most people does not even meet the old recommendation. Offering more greens in restaurants can help consumers to increase their daily intake.

Helping hand

“We know from many studies that consumers do want to eat healthy food. Health impact is one of the most important considerations when shopping. Eating healthy, however, is not easy. People are tempted to consume unhealthy things all the time. They need a helping hand to make the right choices,” explains Marieke Meeusen, researcher at Wageningen Economic Research, part of Wageningen University & Research.

“Food Value Impact hopes to help consumers to eat more healthy and more sustainable.” Nineteen knowledge institutions, companies and non-profit organisations form together the public-private partnership (PPP) Food Value Impact. Aim of the project is to obtain insights in interventions that lead to healthier and more sustainable food choices.

The project consists of three parts. One is about food boxes that are delivered at home. This project is at an early stage and there are no results yet. The second is about increasing vegetable consumption in the working environment. This study is also still pending, but already can be concluded that presenting vegetable snacks during meetings can help people to eat more greens.

Out of home

During the intervention, the Greendish team works in the kitchen carefully measuring each ingredient and making sure the presentation is attractive and inviting. Photos: Greendish

The third project is about the out of home market. The study showed that the vegetable intake can be increased up to 113% when meals are presented in an attractive way.

“Just putting a large pile of salad leaves on a sandwich or on a plate is quite clearly not the solution,” Meeusen argues. “It is all about paying more attention to the vegetables. You have to play with greens. You have to present a colourful dish with many different vegetables, a variety in texture and taste. That results in a completely different experience.”

Apart from more vegetables, the dishes contained less animal proteins. The restaurant guests ate up to 13% less meat or fish. The PPP was more about health issues than about sustainability, but health and sustainability often go hand in hand. By offering less meat or fish the environment benefits because of a smaller CO2 footprint and less use of water.

Appreciation

Offering more vegetables and less meat or fish only leads to a higher intake if the consumers actually eat them. The research showed that the amount of waste of the new style meals was comparable to the regular dishes.

Besides, the appreciation of the restaurant guests was the same or better than before. In the studies, the guests didn’t know they were participating in the study until afterwards their opinion was asked. In a smaller pilot the customers were asked in advance whether they wanted the regular meal or the variety with more veggies and less meat or fish. A third of the subjects chose for the more healthy option.

Next steps

The out of home project has ended recently. In February 2019 started a follow-up project of 3 years. “In the PPP we were trying to find out which interventions work. In the next one we will test if it works on the long term as well. What do the people on the work floor think of it? Will consumers at home adapt the way of preparing their meals accordingly?”

Not all the partners that took part in the first PPP also participate in the new one. “But the findings will be implemented by all of them.”

Wide range

The research was done by Wageningen Economic Research, the Louis Bolk Institute and consultancy firm Greendish. The research took place at a wide range of restaurants, from a sandwich bar to an a-la-carte restaurant, and from a brasserie at the station to an in-house restaurant at a ministry.