Major award for healthy consumer habits team

A team of Leeds researchers from the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) have been awarded a major research impact prize for their work supporting healthier consumer habits.

Dr Francesca Pontin, Dr Victoria Jenneson, Professor Michelle Morris and Dr Emily Ennis

Dr Francesca Pontin, Dr Victoria Jenneson, Professor Michelle Morris and Dr Emily Ennis.

The CDRC’s Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics Team received the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize in recognition of their collaboration with major retailers to improve access to healthy and sustainable diets for customers.

Led by Professor Michelle Morris and including Dr Stephen Clark, Dr Emily Ennis, Dr Vicki Jenneson and Dr Francesca Pontin, the team analysed shopping data – including transactions and store loyalty cards – to build up a picture of the type of food people were buying.

This enabled them, and their retail partners including Asda and Sainsbury’s, to test interventions that promote healthy eating.

Michelle said: “We are delighted that our research has delivered real-world impact and to be recognised as winners by ESRC in this way is brilliant.

“This work has been a result of effort from a diverse team at the University of Leeds and our partners. We hope that it inspires others to play their part in research that makes a difference.”

The value of collaboration

Previously, it had not been possible to undertake a project like this in such detail. The traditional method of people reporting their eating habits through surveys only provided limited data and retailers had been unwilling to share more valuable information citing market sensitivities.

From its beginnings in 2017 with a single supermarket partner, the team built up relationships with retailers and in 2020, were invited to collaborate with the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), an organisation working with the food industry to deliver social impact.

The IGD’s Industry Nutrition Strategy Group (INSG) members represent more than 11,500 UK food stores and account for over 90% of take-home food sales.

The award is testament to the value of collaboration between industry and academics and how they can learn from each other.

Emily said: “Our ways of working have demonstrated to the food retail sector the value of academic expertise in approaching a problem and analysing data and shown academic researchers the value of industry experience.

“This exchange of skills and knowledge has allowed us to effectively upskill the data and nutrition workforce.”

Real world impact

The CDRC team’s research has led to sector-wide transformation, providing insights to retailers on the effectiveness of behaviour-change trials that encourage healthy and sustainable diets, particularly for communities most in need.

As part of their work, the team found that the introduction of the Sainsbury’s Healthy Start voucher top-up scheme, designed to support pregnant women and children access healthy nutrition, led to shoppers increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in their basket by an average of 13 portions. 

Sainsbury’s have now taken that data and used it as a basis to expand the voucher scheme and make decisions on the pricing of fruit and vegetables.

The project continues to investigate how people can make healthier choices when buying food and the team are moving on to evaluate the impact of national policies, such as government legislation restricting the promotion of foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

Watch the team’s video about how they have helped food retailers enable healthier, more sustainable diets.

Read more about the project and the ESRC award.

Find out more about the Consumer Data Research Centre.

Posted in: