NEW research identifies the top motivators to dietary change: easy solutions, more clarity and great taste cues

Added on
20 Jan 2021
NEW research identifies the top motivators to dietary change: easy solutions, more clarity and great taste cues

The UK National dietary guidelines and international health bodies have been clear and consistent in their advice, consumers have to shift towards adopting a diet that is predominantly made up of healthy plant foods whilst animal produce, in particular red meat and dairy, are moderated.

With less than 1% of the UK population adopting the Eatwell guide, it is clear that consumers need significant assistance to shift their less than optimal eating habits.

New research from IGD (the Institute of Grocery Distribution) reveals more than three-quarters (83%) of consumers changed their food behaviours during the first national lockdown, with over half (51%) claiming to have eaten more fruit and vegetables.

Natasha Maynard, Nutrition and Scientific Affairs Manager at IGD said “In the first lockdown, we saw many consumers adopting new food behaviours such as cooking more from scratch and spending more time preparing meals. Many of these new habits also had a positive impact on people’s diets; for example, those who participated in a weight loss plan, bought a fruit or vegetable box or cooked more from scratch also claimed to have eaten more fruit and vegetables.”

Natasha adds “This is really encouraging when it comes to ways we can support people to achieve their 5 A Day. We have a unique opportunity to act now and help consumers turn positive new behaviours into long term changes to their diets. From use of positive language to supporting people with meal planning and recipe inspiration, there are lots of ways health care professionals can support people to shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets.”

IGD’s research has identified key opportunities to help drive behaviour change and encourage consumers to eat more fruit and vegetables. These include:

  • Using simple educational messaging to highlight better choices and normalise change
  • Using positive language and imagery to add an element of excitement around fruit and vegetables
  • Inspiring consumers to try something new, such as swapping ingredients in their favourite recipes

Effortless, “how to” practical solutions that minimally deviate from current eating patterns are the most powerful motivators

Two behavioural science reports from IGD have identified the key motivators and barriers to consumers adopting healthy and environmentally sustainable eating habits.

An online survey, undertaken by 1,000 UK consumers, investigated various retail behaviour strategies that could influence an uplift in vegetable and plant food intakes.  The findings not only corroborated already established dietary behaviour strategies but identified the key motivators and barriers to making the dietary shift.  Although the report focusses on a retail environment, the findings can easily be applied in any context including when advising consumers on a one to one or group basis.


This was particularly important for individuals who have not yet considered shifting to a more plant-based eating pattern and for those who have begun to contemplate it but not quite taken adequate action.

For these groups of individuals, it is paramount that any dietary advice results in little deviation from their current eating habits (normalisation) and practically fits with their usual daily habits.

Swaps and tweaks to familiar recipes are highly motivational

Recommendations should fit into their usual routines and habits e.g. recommending more plant foods to already established meal times or considering plant foods normally accessible to where they usually shop.

Part replacing meat/dairy with plant foods or going meat free once a week 

This would be more acceptable and motivational to this group rather than recommending vegan or vegetarian options.

New recipes tend to be seen as complex, and therefore should be left for individuals who have already started making significant inroads to dietary improvements.


One of the biggest barriers to making a change is the perceived higher costs of ‘healthier’ foods.  It is important to tackle this misperception e.g., demonstrating price differences between plant-proteins and meat, the savings they could make per week on family shopping etc.

  • Once again, for individuals who are reluctant to change often perceive ‘healthier’ foods to compromise on taste – thus cues on taste sensation should be prioritised over health and environmental messaging
  • Individuals need to be re-assured that any change will be accepted by the whole family – so sticking to family favourites is important

The survey also identified confusion with regard to what an environmentally sustainable diet should look like.  Although consumers associated packaging and food waste as important for the environment, few cited consuming more plant-foods as important.  Thus, more specific advice may be needed.

Advice and guidance on how to consume more plant food sources of protein should be prioritised

A survey published in the Nutrition Journal in December 2020 investigated the readiness of 442 individuals to shift towards more sustainable eating patterns.  The study found consumers to be confused about which foods and dietary patterns impacted on the environment.

Like the IGD study, consuming more plant food sources of protein were not seen as important compared to food packaging, reducing waste and air freight miles.

Helping consumer place plant food sources of protein higher up their list of importance would be a major help to both human and planetary health.

Different consumers were at different stages of adopting sustainable eating patterns with over 35-year-olds proving more active in making positive changes such as:

  • Reducing red and processed meat
  • Avoiding excess packaging
  • Reducing food waste