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Food, Convenience and Sustainability (FOCAS), ERA-Net SUSFOOD project No. 25 - FO0459

The FOCAS project (Food, Convenience and Sustainability) is part of the ERA-Net SUSFOOD programme, one of whose aims is to provide a better understanding of consumer behaviour in order to encourage healthier and more sustainable food choices. The project will contribute to the European Commission’s objective of ensuring a safe, nutritious, affordable and healthy food supply, meeting the needs of a growing population while addressing equally urgent concerns about environmental sustainability. The project also addresses several of the policy objectives set out in DEFRA's Food Chain Evidence Plan which aims to support the delivery of a sustainable, secure and healthy food supply. Specifically, the project will address the policy drivers for more sustainable consumption practices by providing new evidence on consumer attitudes towards ‘convenience’ food, conventionally regarded as among the least healthy and most unsustainable of dietary options. Growing demand for ‘convenience’ food has been driven by increasing female labour-force participation and by supply-side changes in food processing, supermarket shopping, refrigeration and microwave cooking. ‘Convenience’ foods have higher levels of market penetration in the UK than in the rest of Europe, providing the opportunity for assessing the social and environmental implications of increased future demand for such foods and evaluating the prospect for developing healthier and more sustainable alternatives.
The project will examine four different kinds of ‘convenience’ food: processed baby-food; supermarket ready-meals; workplace (canteen) food; and food-box schemes. The case studies demonstrate the diversity of ‘convenience’ food, highlighting the complex socio-technical arrangements that underpin their provisioning and the ethical dilemmas to which they are subject. In contrasting but complementary ways, each case involves an interplay between sustainability, health and convenience, including the way these competing discourses are negotiated in practice.
The project team and case studies are drawn from Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the UK. While each case study will address a different aspect of ‘convenience food’ in a specific national context, each case will also involve inter-country comparison. A common set of conceptual categories (practices, meanings, embeddedness and ‘do-ability’) will be employed across the case studies, further enhancing the comparative dimensions and European added value of the project. These concepts correspond closely to our research questions, concerning the meanings that consumers attach to ‘convenience food' and its relationship to discourses of health and sustainability; the practices with which ‘convenience food' is associated; the embeddedness of ‘convenience foods' in the routines and rhythms of everyday life; and the ‘do-ability’ of different practices (both in the sense of their technical feasibility and their perceived social and cultural appropriateness). Project outputs will include a review of our current understanding of the complex and contested category of ‘convenience’ food (synthesising existing knowledge), a series of empirical studies in four European countries (providing new research on contemporary consumer practice), and a stakeholder workshop (to identify the project’s policy implications in terms of possible options for encouraging healthier and more sustainable consumption).
Our objective is to gain a better understanding of ‘convenience food' and its relationship to the promotion of public health and environmental sustainability. To achieve this goal, we seek to understand when, where, how and why people use ‘convenience' foods (including how they are combined with other kinds of food) and how to encourage healthier/more sustainable consumption practices. Based on comparative research in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the UK, we will examine the context and dynamics of consumer choice, hypothesising that many so-called ‘choices’ reflect routinized/habitual behaviour, embedded in consumers’ everyday practices of shopping, cooking, eating and disposing.
Specifically, we will address the following research questions:
• How is ‘convenience food' defined by consumers and how does its use relate to consumer understandings of ‘healthy eating’ and environmental sustainability?
• With what specific practices (shopping, cooking, eating, disposing) are ‘convenience foods' associated?
• How are such foods incorporated within different household contexts and domestic routines?
• To what extent are current practices subject to change (towards more sustainable and healthier alternatives)?
As the UK funding partner, DEFRA will contribute to the PI's costs in managing the FOCAS project team and part-fund Work Package 2 (on the health and sustainability of 'convenience food' in the UK and Germany). The specific objectives, outcomes and outputs of this work are:
to produce a review paper on the consumption of 'convenience food' (by December 2014);
to undertake empirical research on the consumption of 'ready meals' in the UK and Germany (by March 2016);
to feedback the preliminary findings of WP2 (by June 2016); and
to produce a synthesis of the overall project findings (by March 2017).
We also propose to hold a workshop with colleagues at DEFRA to discuss the project findings at a mutually convenient time.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2014

To: 2017

Cost: £35,425
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University of Sheffield
Fields of Study
Resource Efficient and Resilient Food Chain