Enable javascript in your browser for better experience. Need to know to enable it? Go here.

Conscious consumption replaces decadent waste society as Britain is on the brink of a food revolution

New nationwide research from Thoughtworks suggests recycling, food waste, scarcity of supply and ethics are set to become the big issues for consumers in the years ahead

Imagine a world where meat is banned, where recycling is more important to consumers than price and where extreme weather has made global food staples scarce. This is not a flight of fancy. New research shows British adults are already wide awake to how their relationship with food will change. Many will shop differently and the supermarket may no longer exist. Welcome to Britain in 2030.


New nationwide research from Thoughtworks suggests recycling, food waste, scarcity of supply and ethics are set to become the big issues for consumers in the years ahead – with almost one in two seeing a point in the future when they will no longer even use a supermarket (44%).


At a time when the £15bn Asda and Sainsbury’s merger points to fewer bigger supermarket giants, Thoughtworks’ new research suggests the traditional supermarket may soon be out of step with fast changing consumer attitudes to food. Thoughtworks asked a representative sample of 2,000 adults to consider which issues would determine the way they bought food by the year 2030. The results paint a picture of a steep and emphatic rise in conscious consumption. Mindsets are changing and this will play out in changes in shopping habits in the years ahead.


Three key issues will change the way we buy food tomorrow:


1. Environmental awareness – people finally put the planet first


The number one issue for British food shoppers in the next decade will be to reduce packaging and to use more recyclable materials (62%). Already in Britain today, shoppers name this as a bigger issue for the future than the price of food (57%). With reports that more than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, with 10% ending up in the sea, consumer consciousness on this issue in a supermarket will go far beyond the current tokenism of paying small change for a carrier bag.


Beyond recycling, 48% of adults said reducing food waste would be a top issue for the future. Historically, Brits have thrown away around 11% of the value of the food they buy each week, but attitudes have changed since the austerity years, coupled with concern over the impact extreme weather conditions will continue to have on food supply globally. Already today, 32% of consumers polled by Thoughtworks said the future scarcity of food staples would change their relationship with food.


Linked to food supply, 24% of people said they will be more mindful of the amount of energy used for food production. Buying food that has been flown in from a far-flung corner of the world, relying on heavy refrigeration or even driving to and from a supermarket – these could all soon be things of the past.


2. Ethics – how it’s made, not how much it costs


Consumers are on the verge of asking a lot more questions on where their food comes from and how it is produced: 36% of survey respondents said they will place much more importance on where the food they buy is grown, fished or reared. An additional 32% said they would seek assurance that food has been ethically sourced from a sustainable supply chain. And young people can imagine a world without meat. A remarkable 18% of 18-24 year olds said in the future people will not be eating meat, a reaction perhaps to the industrial production methods currently employed.


3. Health and well-being – big reaction to the obesity epidemic


Perhaps a reaction to the current obesity epidemic, health and well-being will become a dominant issue that shapes people’s relationship with food buying and consumption by 2030. Overall, 38% of adults polled said the nutritional value of food will shape their decisions on food buying in the future, with 30% saying there will be a far greater interest in food as an intrinsic part of health and well-being. Furthermore, 41% of survey respondents said tackling the obesity crisis is a top priority.


Kevin Flynn, Director of retail strategy at Thoughtworks commented: “What is emphatic, and a little surprising, from our research is how well people can see what’s coming next. The days of pushing a trolley around a big warehouse, buying over-packaged goods and chasing value offers are numbered.“


“Despite the current obesity crisis, attitudes are beginning to change and this will gather pace in the years ahead. Over the next decade, food is set to become much more closely linked with convenience, health and well-being, global supply chain will change dramatically and extreme weather around the world will result in scarcity of basic foods. Food waste and use of needless packaging will also change the way people buy food as the era of a decadent waste society will end. As we enter a new era in terms of the consumer’s relationship with food, technology has a pivotal role to play to help retailers and food producers tackle the big challenges ahead.”


“Will the supermarket still exist in a drastically changed environment, where the consumer’s relationship with food is different? At Thoughtworks we think it will, but it will look very different - and this is something we are already working on with supermarkets and next generation retailers.”


Factors that people say will become more important in their decisions on what food to buy in 2030


  • Reducing packaging and using more recyclable materials - 62%
  • The price of food - 57%
  • Food waste (i.e. the amount of food that gets thrown away) - 48%
  • Tackling obesity - 41%
  • Where food comes from (e.g. where it is grown, fished, reared etc.) - 36%
  • A greater focus on fresh food - 36%
  • Supporting local farmers/ producers - 34%
  • That the food is ethically sourced/ has an ethical supply chain - 32%
  • Scarcity of certain foods - 32%
  • The convenience - 31%
  • Greater interest in food as an intrinsic part of health and wellbeing - 30%
  • The amount of energy used in food production - 24%
  • Shopping for meals not just ingredients - 15%
  • People not eating meat - 14%
  • People no longer having a family meal together - 14%


For more information or to arrange interviews contact:Guy Bellamy / Sally Cooling / Mairi Glendinning elephant communications +44 (0) 1342 870142 / +44 (0) 7766775216




Notes to editors


The research was conducted by YouGov among a nat rep sample of 2,041 adults between 8-9 August 2018. The research was conducted online.


To register interest for further research reports and releases from Thoughtworks on the food and drink retail sector please email guy@elephantcommunications.co.uk