Co-production of healthy, sustainable food systems for disadvantaged communities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Food and Nutritional Sciences


Our vision is to provide citizens of culturally-diverse disadvantaged communities with choice and agency over the food they consume, by co-developing new products, new supply chains and new policy frameworks that deliver an affordable, attractive, healthy and sustainable diet.

Disadvantaged communities are defined as families and individuals who are at risk of food and housing insecurity, often culturally diverse, and whom experience multiple challenges such as financial, mental health and physical health. The proposed programme of research integrates some of the largest food businesses in the country, together with distribution and retail partners that reach into the heart of disadvantaged communities across the UK. Working alongside government departments and civil organisations, the team will develop a resilient, sustainable and adaptable food system for populations from different regions, age groups and socio-cultural backgrounds. At the end of the project the consortium will have developed methods for innovating food products, food supply chains and food/agricultural policies that are inclusive and robust. When implemented at national scale these will deliver the behavioural, health and economic benefits that a food system should provide for citizens, businesses and the environment.

A baseline of 22% of people live in food poverty in the UK, often reliant on solutions outside of mainstream food systems, including food banks. This doesn't enable people to plan or chose their diet, or to improve their food security on a long term basis. Previous attempts at transforming the food-health system to become more equitable, sustainable and integrated have had limited impact as they fail to engage disadvantaged communities in the research process and the policy design, leading to a failure to impart knowledge sharing or social innovation. The disconnect between households, communities and national supply and production networks presents one of the greatest challenges to developing a socially just, healthier, and sustainable food system for everyone.

This project will identify and implement the innovations and new configurations of the food system that are necessary to deliver improved nutritional public health and wellbeing for citizens from disadvantaged communities with enhanced environmental sustainability. The team will do this using co-design, co-production and participatory methods that enable major food businesses and community owned enterprises to engage with each other, and with the citizens who consume food. In the first part of the project a picture of the national food landscape in disadvantaged communities from across the UK will be built, and the impact of the current food system on environmental sustainability will be analysed. Investigation of current corporate, social and government policy frameworks that guide food and agriculture in the UK and across Europe will be evaluated to highlight positive directions for the future. Together, in phase 2, communities and businesses will co-develop new supply chains, new or reformulated exemplar food products and new policy frameworks. In phase 3, these innovations will be evaluated, adjusted and improved. The impact of scaling these innovations to basket level and national level will be evaluated, quantifying the potential impact of nationwide changes on the environment and health.

By the end of the project we will have established effective methods for co-creation of policy, products and supply chains that can be implemented at a national level. As a result, every citizen will have the potential to make decisions about their food, and will have access to a diet that is affordable, attractive, healthy and environmentally sustainable.


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