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Oxford researchers work alongside Tesco to increase plant-based meals

Meg Lintern reports on a collaboration between Oxford University and Tesco.

Meg Lintern
Meg Lintern
Meg is a Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Cherwell who oversees Features, Innovations, and The Rag. She's also a second-year history student at St Catz.

Food researchers at Oxford Martin School are working with Tesco to increase the plant-based options on our supermarket shelves.

In 2020, an international team led by Oxford University revealed that even if fossil fuel emissions stopped immediately, emissions from global food production could raise our planet’s temperatures by more than 1.5 degrees within 30-45 years. However, the Oxford Martin Future of Food Programme has shown that if our national beef consumption was reduced by just a fifth, then we could save the equivalent CO2 emissions as driving 27 billion fewer miles. To accelerate Britain’s shift towards a greener diet, the Programme is working with Tesco to increase plant-based meals.

According to the Eating Better coalition, meat-based products still made up 70% of ready-meal ranges in March 2021. Clearly, a change in the nation’s diet is key to tackling the climate crisis. To achieve this, the Future of Food Programme is investigating the factors that affect consumer food choices. They have discovered that aspects like the cost and availability of meat-free meals significantly impact the consumption of these products, and this research is crucial in helping supermarkets to tailor their stock towards an environmentally-friendly future.

The Programme’s senior researcher, Dr Brian Cook, is interested in the role that food providers should play in promoting greener eating habits. He suggests that simply increasing the availability of plant-based alternatives could nudge consumers away from meat-based meals. He emphasises the role that supermarkets like Tesco should play in pushing this transition.

In a survey by Tesco, 57% of people stated a willingness to switch to a meatless meal one day a week to benefit the environment. In light of this research, Tesco has pledged to increase its supply of plant-based meat alternatives by 300%. With bigger ranges of meat-free meals, and with more investment directed towards tasty alternatives to carnivorous dishes, the Future of Food Programme hopes that anyone looking to shift their consumption will be more likely to make the change and will also be
more likely to maintain it.

Since price is often cited as a reason why individuals avoid making a transition to veganism, Tesco is also working on reducing the prices of its plant-based range. They hope that if proteins like tofu and nuts are made as accessible as meat proteins, consumers will be more able to embrace a sustainable diet and enjoy the health benefits that could come with it.

This new initiative is clearly coming at the right time. Average daily meat consumption in the UK decreased by approximately 17.4g per person (from 103.7g to 86.3g) between 2008/09 and 2018/19, suggesting that the market for plant-based alternatives is steadily on the rise. With further research by the Future of Food Programme, there is reason to hope that this trend will continue, and that we will see continuous changes to Britain’s supermarket shelves.

In the words of Dr Cook himself, “each of us making a small change to our diets could add up to a huge shift in our collective environmental impact”. With COP-26 taking place this week, the momentum spurred by projects like Oxford Martin’s is pushing the global community towards a greener future.

Image credits: CC BY-NC 4.0

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