'Thinking beyond the can': Mainstreaming UK-grown beans in healthy meals (BeanMeals)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford


'Thinking beyond the can': Mainstreaming UK-grown beans in healthy meals (BeanMeals)

A key challenge for the UK food system is how to move towards healthier diets with lower environmental impact while also enhancing local and national enterprise. However, moderating consumption of foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt (HFSS) requires coordinated action across the food system.

BeanMeals will directly address this by researching how to transform the food system based on systemic innovation in institutional catering and home-cooking by using healthier ingredients, new public procurement practises and more-local products. By starting with the meal and working backwards through the supply chain to the grower, research will be based on a 'fork-to-farm' concept (a disruption of the productionist 'farm-to-fork' paradigm). It will feature meals made from two quick-cooking navy bean varieties ('Capulet' and 'Godiva') which have recently been developed at the University of Warwick for UK growing conditions. it is also suitable for a wide range of easily-prepared institutional- and home-cooked meals with lower fat, salt and sugar content. Capulet production is poised to scale with commercial partners, and increased UK production would reduce the amount of dry navy beans (used in tinned baked beans) imported from North America, thereby lessening the environmental costs of shipping and opening new local enterprise opportunities. Environmental benefits of increased production and consumption of UK bean-based meals include reduced fertilizer demand on subsequent crops (beans are a N-fixing rotation crop), and hence reduced GHG related to its manufacture and reduced N2O emissions and runoff from agriculture; reduced water and energy use from more efficient processing (the beans cook quickly); and reduced transport emissions from having more local supply chains and lower importation of dry beans.

BeanMeals aims to develop and analyse systemic innovations (i.e. innovations that require collaboration between multiple actors) for reducing HFSS consumption in institutional and home-cooking by using UK-grown navy beans. Research will develop a new 'fork-to-farm' paradigm of the systemic innovation of dietary change, which can be seen as 'reverse-engineering': start with preparation and consumption of the meal, and work backwards though the 'missing middle' (i.e. the retailers/wholesalers, distributors, secondary and primary processors, and the associated logistics), to the grower. By crossing research disciplines with innovation topics in its research design, we will determine both how best to bring about systemic innovation, and analyse the health, environment and enterprise impacts of the transformed system. The project will be centred on Leicestershire, and has been co-designed with a range of local partners co-convened by Leicestershire County Council (LCC), including Leicester City Council, Food for Life and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP), who all see the potential for enhanced outcomes for local health, environment and enterprise. The potential benefits at the UK-level have been identified by organisations with a national remit, including Defra, FSA, NFU, WWF and CIWF.


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Description School engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Training workshop to school caterers.Observations of staff engagement in the training (e.g. what appears to be engage with well, what are staff less engaged with):

• The cooks were all very engaged in the training
• Discussions about the recipes:
o They thought the soup was really tasty. But they want the colour the change because it looks dull and unappealing. So more of the tomato puree may address that.
o The baked beans (option 1, easy beans) were ok but a bit vinegary. This was because the cooks forgot to add the cornflour to thicken the juice and it also adjusts the flavour slightly. The second option (Heinz baked beans) were ok but different to what the children are used to. They could amend to 'boston beans' and add some Worcester sauce to it.
o The bean balls were nice, and they could easily be adjusted to be burger patty's or kebabs. The balls need to be served alongside a dip as they are a bit dry, or cooked with a sauce.
• The cooks discussed in detail their thoughts about the logistics of incorporating the beans into their school meals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023