First online: 21 July 2021
Licensing: This article is Open Access (CC BY 4.0).
How to Cite:
Blackford, B. 2021. 'Nudging interventions on sustainable food consumption: a systematic review'. The Journal of Population and Sustainability 5(2): 17–62.
As population growth continues,
sustainable food behaviour is
essential to help reduce the anthropogenic modification of
natural systems, driven by food production and consumption, resulting in
environmental and health burdens and impacts. Nudging, a behavioural concept,
has potential implications for tackling these issues, encouraging change in
individuals’ intentions and decision-making via indirect proposition and
reinforcement; however, lack of empirical evidence for effectiveness and the
controversial framework for ethical analysis create challenges. This systematic
review evaluated the effectiveness of nudging interventions on sustainable food
choices, searching five databases to identify the effectiveness of such
interventions. Of the 742 identified articles, 14 articles met the eligibility
criteria and were included in this review. Overall, the potential of certain nudging interventions for encouraging
sustainable food choices were found in strategies that targeted ‘system 1’
thinking (automatic, intuitive and non-conscious, relying on heuristics, mental
shortcuts and biases), producing outcomes which were more statistically
significant compared to interventions requiring consumer deliberation. Gender,
sensory influences, and attractiveness of target dishes were highlighted as
pivotal factors in sustainable food choice, hence research that considers these
factors in conjunction with nudging interventions is required.
nudging interventions; sustainable food choice; food security
growth, increased per capita global affluence, urbanisation, increased food
productivity and food diversity, decreased seasonal dependence, and food prices
have caused major shifts in global dietary and consumption patterns (Lassalette
et al., 2014; Tillman and Clark, 2014; Davis et al., 2016).
Westernisation of food consumption has occurred in population growth regions
over the last 50 years, increased demand for meat and dairy, empty calories and
total calories has altered the global nature and nutrient transition scale of
food consumption (Kearney, 2010; Tillman and Clark, 2014). The Food and
Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that food
production will have to increase by 70% to feed an additional 2.3 billion people
by 2050, with the majority of this population growth occurring in developing
countries (FAO et al., 2020).
2019/20 annual global production of cereal grains (2.7 billion tonnes) alone is
capable of providing adequate nutritional energy to 10-12 billion people
(Cohen, 2017; FAO et al., 2020). However, issues surrounding the allocation and
utilisation of cereal grains has led to 43% being used for human food
consumption, 36% for animal feed and 21% for other industrial uses such as
biofuels. This utilisation can price the most vulnerable people out of the
world grain market, limiting food choices, purchases, and human wellbeing
(Cohen, 2017). The FAO estimate that 8.9% (690 million) of the global
population are undernourished and 9.7% (750 million) are exposed to severe
levels of food insecurity (FAO et al., 2020).
food production is a significant driver in the anthropogenic modification of
natural systems, causing burdens and impacts on both the environment and human
health. Externalities including environmental impact (e.g., climate change,
biodiversity loss, and natural resource depletion), and negative impacts on
human health and culture (e.g., obesity, cancer, diabetes, loss of cultural
heritage, impacts on rural businesses, access to green spaces) are generally
not included in the price of commodities (Lassalette et al., 2014; Beattie and
McGuire, 2016; Benton, 2016; Notarnicola et al., 2017; Schanes et al., 2018;
Sustainable Food Trust, 2019; Taghikhah et al., 2019; Viegas and Lins, 2019).
Encouraging consumers to adopt more sustainable food behaviour, such as locally
sourced foods or diets containing less meat, is essential to reduce the impact
of food production and consumption, especially in developed countries (Kerr and
Foster, 2011; Schoesler et al., 2014; Hartmann and Siegrist, 2017; Ferrari, et
al., 2019; Hedin et al., 2019; FAO, 2019; de Grave et al., 2020).
consumption (SC) was first highlighted in the 1992 United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development, chapter 4 – Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1992), and
defined in the 1994 Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption as:
use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a
better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic
materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of
the service or product so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations.
(United Nations, 2020, p.8)
2018 Third International Conference of the Sustainable Consumption Research and
Action Initative (SCORAI) in Copenhagen highlighted the role of behavioural
economics and related strategies on consumption routines to assist SC (SCORAI,
2018). Hence it is vital to understand human behaviour as complex and
influenced by cognitive bias and heuristics (Fischer et al., 2012; Lehner et
(2011) proposed that human thinking is driven by two systems:
1- automatic, intuitive and non-conscious, relying on heuristics, mental
shortcuts and biases
2-intervening, deliberate and conscious, relying on the availability of
information and cognitive capacity to process information to make rational
are susceptible to ‘nudges’ that encourage behavioural change within civil
society (Allcott and Mullainathan, 2010; Kahneman, 2011; Fischer et al., 2012;
Marteau, 2017). Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein first popularised the term
‘nudge’ in the book Nudge: Improving Decisions
About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008), in reference to any
characteristic of the decision environment “that alters people’s behaviour in a
predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their
economic incentives” (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008, p.6). Sunstein (2013) further
suggested that nudges can be promising tools for promoting a broad range of
pro-environmental and sustainable consumption behaviours (Sunstein, 2013).
interventions can play an important role in sustainable food consumption (SFC),
helping change consumers food habits in a non-obtrusive, cost-effective manner
by modifying the choice architecture in which consumers operate – thus steering
their behaviour in preferred directions (Torma et al., 2018; Kácha and Ruggeri,
2019; Vandenbroele, et al., 2019). Hence nudges are the opposite of coercive
policy tools which tackle behaviour change through fines or bans (Ferrari, et
al., 2019). Blumenthal-Barby and Burroughs (2012) describe the ethical issues
surrounding the MINDSPACE framework and identify six principles that can be
used to nudge people: defaults (D); ego and commitment (EC); incentives (I);
messenger and norms (MN); priming (P); and salience and affect (SA) (BIT, 2010;
Blumenthal-Barby and Burroughs, 2012). Descriptive norms, such as incentivising
tools for online shopping, can help encourage pro-environmental behaviour and
the purchasing of green products (Demarque et al., 2015) whilst social norm
interventions, such as those around the use of reusable cups, can help
customers avoid wasteful disposable items (Loschelder, et al., 2019). D and P
nudges, such as visibility, positioning, display area size and quantity, can
shift consumers’ purchase behaviour towards more sustainable choices (Coucke,
et al., 2019), whereas environmentally friendly food packaging can produce
overall positive impacts on consumers’ sustainability choices (Ketelsen, et
is still in its infancy. The UK established the Behavioural Insight Team in
2009 to help develop the concept of nudge units, initiatives and networks,
whilst The World Bank, OCED and the EU have supported research to further
examine the potential of nudging (Hansen, 2016). Policymakers utilise nudges to
help design, implement and evaluate the appropriate policy instruments to
assist in devising effective policies to enhance sustainable behaviour and
counteract the negative impact of other actors who encourage ‘undesirable’
behaviours (Lehner et al., 2016; Marteau, 2017). However, nudging has been
challenged and criticised on a number of grounds, including the lack of
empirical evidence proving its effectiveness, the difficulty in putting theory
into practice, and for ethical reasons – i.e. paternalism and reduced human
autonomy (Hansen, 2016; Kasperbauer, 2017).
systematic reviews (SR) undertaken on nudging interventions on food choices
have mainly focused on human health and diet (Bucher et al., 2016; Wilson et
al., 2016; Broers et al., 2017; Bianchi et al., 2018; Taufika et al., 2019;
Vecchio and Cavallo, 2019), and the environmental impacts on the supply chain
(Ferrari et al., 2019). For example, Ferrari et al. (2019) showed that ‘green
nudging’, especially D, NM, P and SA, has the most significant effect on
leveraging more sustainable practices and behaviours of both farmers and
consumers, having the potential to be used as tools for environmental policy
formulation (Ferrari et al., 2019). Bucher et al. (2016), Broers et al. (2017)
and Bianchi et al. (2018) illustrated how altering placement of food items can
produce a moderate significant effect on promoting healthier eating behaviours
through healthier food choices. Bucher et al. (2016) further suggested that the
strength of the nudge depends on the type of positional manipulation, the
magnitude of the change and how far away foods are placed (Bucher, et al.,
2016; Broers et al., 2017; Bianchi et al., 2018). Bianchi et al., (2018)
additionally demonstrated that SA, I and P could increase consumers plant-based
choices by 60-65% (Bianchi et al., 2018). Wilson et al. (2016) illustrated that
the combination of P and SA enable consistent positive influences on healthier
food and beverage choices, making healthier options easier to choose both
mentally and physically (Wilson et al., 2016). Furthermore, Taufika et al.
(2019) illustrated that the combination of SA and MN could be associated with
the reduction of meat consumption (Taufika et al., 2019). Vecchio and Cavallo
(2019) suggested that, overall, nudge strategies successfully increased healthy
nutritional choices by 15.3% (Vecchio and Cavallo, 2019).
these results show that nudges are generally effective in promoting healthier
food choices and sustainable practices and behaviours, none of the studies
examined the effectiveness of nudging interventions on SFC. There is a
knowledge gap on the effectiveness of nudging interventions on sustainable food
choices. The goal of this systematic review is to synthesise the empirical findings
of existing published academic literature that has investigated the effect of
various nudging interventions on these choices and therefore upon SFC in
real-life contexts. This paper will:
the evidence around the effectiveness of interventions for SFC
the factors that influence the effectiveness of interventions
identify research gaps in current understanding of the field
(Peričić-Poklepović & Tanveer, 2019; CEE, 2020)
search was conducted to identify published literature that utilised
interventional and experimental studies to examine nudging interventions to
encourage SFC. The studies were identified using the search strategy and
analysed against inclusion criteria, those studies that met these criteria were
further synthesised by analysing abstracts and full texts. Type of nudges
applicable were D, EC, I, MN, P and SA.
systematic review was conducted in September 2020. The search terms used to
identify literature from data sources were:
OR “nudging” OR “nudging theory” AND “sustainable* consumption” AND “food” OR
“diet” AND “consumer”.
these search terms, published literature were retrieved from online databases,
Web of Science, Scopus, ScienceDirect, EBSCO (Bournemouth University Library)
and Google Scholar. The title and abstracts of the retrieved
articles were screened for relevance. The potentially relevant articles were
examined for their eligibility to be included in the review, whilst the
references of the eligible literature were screened to identify any additional
dates were restricted to between 2010-2020 in order that only material released
after the publication of Thaler and Sunstein’s (2008) techniques was
considered. Only literature published in English were included.
inclusion criteria for selecting eligible literature were:
test peer-reviewed studies in English language
studies between 2010-2020
should examine the effectiveness or impact of nudges on sustainable food
control trial studies or have a ‘control’ to ensure empirical evidence
study should measure sustainable food choices as one of its outcomes via
dietary choices i.e., less meat more vegetables
literature such as reports and letters were excluded as they were not
total of 742 eligible studies were retrieved from the data sources using the
aforementioned search strategy, 6 from Web of Science, 338 from ScienceDirect,
9 from EBSCO (Bournemouth University Library), 379 from Google Scholar and 8
from Scopus. After reviewing titles and abstracts, 614 were excluded (Fig 1).
The remaining 128 studies were assessed against the inclusion criteria,
resulting in exclusion of 102 studies, leaving 26 for further review. 12
articles were further excluded owing to collection of empirical evidence being
conducted in a laboratory setting or online surveys, holding the potential for
behavioural bias, resulting in 14 articles that were based in a naturally
occurring setting i.e., supermarket/canteen. Searching reference lists of the
remaining 13 articles, 1 further article was obtained, creating a total of 14
articles for the SR (Fig 1).
Data extraction and synthesis
the 14 eligible articles basic descriptive data were recorded to ensure quality
assessment, including study design, year of data collection, country of
residence, target subjects, sample size and intervention setting. More detailed
data extraction included: intervention strategy; outcome measured; data
analysis method; main findings; and effectiveness of intervention when
evaluated against sustainable food choices i.e., less meat more vegetables.
simple mnemonic MINDSPACE framework was utilised to identify the nine robust
nudges that can influence behaviour: messenger; incentive; norms; defaults;
salience; priming; affect; commitments; and ego – MINDSPACE (BIT, 2010). For
this SR, they have been grouped into six categories – D, EC, I, MN, P and SA
(Table 1) (Blumenthal-Barby and Burroughs, 2012).
are many frameworks that help identify key concepts and nudges to influence
behaviour towards healthier choices. The TIPPME framework (Typology of
Interventions in Proximal Physical Micro-Environments) aims to reliably
classify, describe and enable more systematic design, reporting and analysis of
interventions in order to help change behaviour across populations utilising
nudges D, P, SA to change selection, purchase and consumption of foods
(Hollands et al., 2017). Applying EC, MN, SA nudges, the SHIFT framework aims
to encourage consumers into pro-environmental behaviours when the message or
context influences psycological factors, such as social influence, habit
formation, individual self-feeling, cognition and tangibility (White et al.,
2019). Chance et al.’s (2014) The 4P’s framework aims to integrate nudges
within a dual-system model of consumer choice by targeting possibilities,
process, persuasion and person, using nudges D, EC, MN, P, SA. Kraak et al.
(2017) extend this framework by suggesting a marketing mix and choice
architecture 8P’s framework, highlighting the potential to promote and socailly
normalise healthy food environments. This works by utilising nudges D, EC, I,
MN, P, SA encouraging voluntary changes made to the properties of the environment
and food being sold (place, profile, portion, pricing, promotion) and volunatry
changes made to the placement of food sold (healthy default picks,
priming/prompting, proximity (Kraak et al., 2017).
assess the quality of data obtained from the eligible studies a rating scheme
was utilised, ranging from weak (*) to very strong (****). The principles of
the ratings were based on study design, selection bias, sample size, duration
of study, and risk of bias from missing information (Table 2). The rating
scheme was adapted from a previous study undertaken by Nørnberg et al. (2015)
who successfully utilised this method to rate and assess the effectiveness of
interventions on vegetable intake in a school setting.
effectiveness of nudging interventions on SFC
14 articles included in this SR all focused on SFC in the form of food choice
behaviour and were conducted in North America and Europe. Interventions were
conducted at supermarkets, canteens, cafeterias, restaurants or cafeterias at
universities, workplace, senior activity centres and the Institute Paul Bocuse.
The subjects consisted of students, university staff, workplace employees,
retirees, and the general population. Five studies used SA as the core nudge,
three used a P/SA combination, two used a D/P combination, one used P, one used
D, one used D/SA combination and one used I/MN/SA combination. The intervention
strategies, intervention duration and sample sizes were largely heterogeneous
across all studies (Table 3).
different strategies and methods applied to implement the varying nudges
illustrated differing effectiveness (Table 4). The studies utilising nudges SA
(Gravert and Kurz, 2019; Kurz, 2018), P (Garnett et al., 2019), D/P combination
(Coucke et al., 2019; Vandenbroele et al., 2018) and D/SA combination
(Campbell-Arvai et al., 2014) provided statistically significant impact for
increasing sustainable food choices. However, studies that implemented D (Zhou
et al., 2019), P/SA combination (McBey et al., 2019) and SA (Piester et al.,
2020; Salmivaara and Lankoski, 2019; Slapø and Karevold, 2019) were not
statistically significant. One study which utilised P/SA combination (Ohlhausen
and Langen, 2020) showed statistical significance with regards to SA but not P,
whilst a P/SA combination (Kaljonen et al., 2020) and I/MN/SA combination
(Becchetti et al., 2020) illustrated marginal statistical significance, highlighting
the potential use of these combinations.
studies were randomised control trials (RCT), duration of interventions varied
considerably, ranging from 1 day to 3 years, three studies did not specify the
intervention duration. All studies, bar one, had a large sample size (˃100)
and one lacked sufficient statistical analysis. The quality rating of the
included studies was strong to very strong with a mean rating of 3.2 and
standard deviation of 1.08 (Table 5).
total, five of the studies utilised the nudge SA to encourage SFC (Kurz, 2018;
Gravert and Kurz, 2019; Salmivaara and Lankoski, 2019; Slapø and Karevold,
2019; Piester et al., 2020). The main strategy utilised consisted of signage,
ranging from descriptive menus to visual environmental information. Gravert and
Kurz (2019) suggested that introducing two different menus, 1 x meat and fish
dishes 1 x vegetarian and fish dishes – meat or vegetarian choices were
available upon request. Meat dish choice decreased by 38% with the vegetarian
and fish menu and vegetarian choices increased (3.9%) with the meat and fish
menu – no compensatory effect was monitored (p˂0.01).
Kurz (2018) found that by changing the position of vegetarian dishes in a menu
order, and allocating equal visibility of vegetarian dishes with meat dishes in
the purchasing environment, purchase of vegetarian dishes increased by 40% (p ≤
0.01). Weekly sales of vegetarian dishes increased by 0.8%-0.9% after the
intervention ceased (p ≤ 0.01) (Kurz, 2018).
and Karevold (2019) found that impementing traffic light labelling (red,
yellow, green) on dishes to indicate the environmental friendliness of a dish,
encouraged a 7%-9% reduction in meat sales (p=0.10), although having just
singular green or red labels had little to no impact (p˃0.1).
Salmivaara and Lankoski (2019) indicated that activating injunctive norm
message signs at point of purchase had no significant effect on sustainable
food choice (p=0.6263), whilst Piester et al. (2020) found that implementing
sustainability labels on menus marginally influenced women’s uptake of more
sustainable choices (p=0.11) but not for men (p=0.23). Piester et al. (2020)
identified the intention-behaviour gap, highlighting that only 45% of people
bought the items they intended to purchase.
studies utilised P/SA combination (McBey et al., 2019; Kaljonen et al., 2020;
Ohlhausen and Langen, 2020), applying signage with availability and
accessibility to help encourage more SFC. Kaljonen et al. (2020) suggested that
increasing the availability and accessibility of vegetarian dishes in a buffet
line, placing vegetarian dishes at the front, increased sales by 10%. Climate
labels attached to the dishes had limited effect, although women were more
susceptible (42%). Ohlhausen and Langen (2020) found that DNLs were
statistically significant when in combination with a DE (unattractive meal
dish) (p≤0.001), while DNLs were 10% more influential than the DE. McBey et al.
(2019) proposed that environmental labelling is crucial for framing the disconnection
between food choice and the environmental consequence, and the physical layout
of retail stores can be a powerful tool in promoting SFC to consumers.
D/SA combination (Campbell-Arvai et al., 2014) which implemented ‘appealing’
vegan/vegetarian dishes on a menu assisted significantly with the prediction of
food choices made by consumers (p˂0.001), and when
applied into a default menu (appealing dishes positioned at top) sales
increased significantly (p˂0.001); however providing
information-only menus promoted a decrease in meat-free purchases (p=0.534).
Becchetti et al. (2020) utilised a combination of I/MN/SA, implementing three
small posters/labels in-store, one promoting environmental responsibility and
two labels implementing a 5% and 10% price increase on organic items. Overall,
the intervention increased sales by 2% (p≤0.01), with the 5% and 10% labels
increasing sales of organic items by 5% and 4.3% respectively, supporting the
theory that higher environmental concern can induce the purchase of organic
foods, and can induce the purchase of organic food despite its greater cost.
et al. (2019) utilised P, doubling the quantity of vegetarian dishes (25% to
50%) available in three university cafeterias. The intervention increased
vegetarian dish uptake by 60.4% across the three cafeterias, positively
impacting consumers whom previously had low levels of vegetarian purchases
(p≤0.001) with no rebound effect. Zhou et al. (2019) used ’Dish of the Day’ as
a D intervention, providing statistically insignificant results (p=109-0.865).
However, they highlighted that the default dish was chosen when concerns such
as security (e.g., safety, harmony, and stability of society, of
relationships, and of self) and universalism (e.g., understanding, appreciation,
tolerance, and protection, for the welfare of all people and for nature) were
strong (p=0.11 and p=0.008 respectively). D/P combination (Coucke et al., 2019;
Vandenbroele et al., 2018) provided statistically significant results. Couke et
al. (2019) increased sales of poultry by 13% (p˂0.05)
and decreased sales of other meats by 18% (p=0.001) via enhanced visibility and
quantity of poultry available at a butcher’s counter. When the intervention
ceased, poultry sales decreased significantly (p˂0.001).
Vandenbroele et al. (2018) illustrated that altering the portion sizes of
sausages (150g, 125g, 100g) increased the purchase of 125g and 100g portions
marginally (52%), with no compensatory effect on customers purchasing extra
portions of the same size (p=0.001). The intervention decreased overall meat
(kg) purchased by 13%, however compensatory purchases of other meats did not
differ amoung buyers of all portion sizes (p=0.62).
of nudging interventions on SFC
of the 14 studies reviewed, ten provided statistically significant results,
supporting the positive effectiveness of nudging interventions in encouraging
sustainable food choices (Table 6).
SA as a
and Kurz, (2019) suggested that the simple and inexpensive rearrangement of
menus in terms of convenience could reduced meat consumption by 38% and
increase vegetarian and fish dishes sold by 200% (p˂0.01).
Kurz (2018) further supported this theory by suggesting that increasing
visibility and changing menu position could encourage a persistent shift in
consumption behaviour (p≤0.01) whereas Löfgren et al. (2012) proposed that
experienced participants were harder to nudge than inexperienced participants.
The heterogenous effects of the nudge in relation to the type of vegetarian
dish served identified that the target dish(es) offered had to be more
attractive to meat eaters, hence vegetarian burgers/patties had the most
successful impact. With that said, disentanglement of which nudge
(visibility/position) caused the vegetarian dish increase was not undertaken.
Piester et al. (2020) found the effectiveness of sustainability labels with
additional information on a menu was not effective, possibly due to the unknown
duration of the intervention and information overload of having messages that
combine different types of information (Carfona et al., 2019). Women were more
likely to purchase vegetarian dishes with sustainability labels (p=0.11), and
with additional information this increased (p=0.23), this is consistent with
past research emphasising gender influence in SFC (Andersen and Hyldif, 2015;
Zhou, et al., 2019). Piester et al. (2020) highlighted that only 45% of
participants purchased what they intended, hence the intention-behaviour gap of
consumers is crucial in understand purchasing habits (ElHaffar et al., 2020;
Rausch and Kopplin, 2021).
and Karevold (2019) provided marginally significant results utilising traffic
light labelling, supporting the theory of the ‘compromise effect’ (choosing the
middle option) (Carroll and Vallen, 2014). Initially there was 7-9% reduction
in meat consumption (p=0.10), this behaviour declined over time and almost
reverted back to the control period behaviour after period 1; providing
evidence that consumers can develop “label fatigue” (p=0.38) (Thorndike et al.,
2014). Single red and green labels had no signficant impact (p˃0.1),
possibly due to lack of available environmental information (Ratner et al.,
2008), limited previous knowledge regarding the connection between food choices
and environmental consequences (Hartmann and Siegrist, 2017; Lea et al., 2006)
and perceived needs of consumers in the choice situation (i.e. focused on
sensory factors rather than environmental preservation) (Andersen and Hyldif,
2015; Slapø and Karevold, 2019).
and Lankoski (2019) concurred with these results, suggesting that activating
injunctive norm messages to promote sustainable food choice is an ineffective
measure (p=0.6263), possiblly due to the 1-day intervention duration and
exclusion of vegetarian and vegan participants. Nevertheless, this intervention
could help identify potential subgroups of consumers who are sensitive to the
intervention, i.e. older educated women influenced more by the message of
“ecological wellbeing”. Multiple norms could have complex casual interactions
and joint effects, i.e. messages of ecological wellbeing and local food could
be combined to have greater impact than the message used independently; a topic
requiring further attention (McDonald et al., 2014).
combination as a nudge
and Langen (2020) were able to identify the SA nudge (DNLs) as 10% more
effective in increasing vegetarian dish choice (p≤0.001), especially the use of
“sustainability” and “regional” (20% and 15% respectively), proving consistent with
past research (Morizet et al., 2012). Whereas, in constrast to previous
non-food related literature, the P nudge (DE) lowered choice frequencies of
sustainable choices overall (p=0.23) (Simonson, 1989; Doyle et al., 1999;
Masicampo and Baumeister, 2008). This study supports Kurz (2018) theory that
nudging interventions are not only influenced by the type of nudge or setting
but by other variables (i.e. target dish), hence based on systematic assessment
of similarities and difference between dishes, careful selection and grouping
of target dishes and competitor dishes is required (Ohlhausen and Langen,
Kaljonen et al. (2020) and McBey et al. (2019) undertook qualitative studies
that used descriptive labels as the SA nudge. Kaljonen et al. (2020) suggested
that climate labels are a restriction to menu and recipe development, whilst
McBey et al. (2019) suggested that how descriptive messages are framed is
crucial, i.e. comparing meat products with sources of environmental pollution.
Kaljonen et al. (2020) further suggested that availability and accessibility,
by changing the food order available in a buffet line (P nudge), helps to
encourage more vegetarian dish choices (+10%). Coinciding with McBey et al.
(2019) who suggested that the physical layout of supermarkets play a pivotal
role in highlighting the ‘otherness’ of alternative food choices (i.e.
plant-based), creating a ‘not for me’ implication. Both studies agreed with
past research that more qualitative research is required in understanding SFC
(Lehner et al., 2016), the complex and multi-faceted nature of food choice
means that what holds true in controlled conditions may not work in every day
life (Kahneman, 2011).
combination as a nudge
et al.’s (2014) D/SA combination suggested that by placing less
environmentally-friendly food choices in slightly less convenient positions on
a menu (i.e. bottom) the default menus increased the probablility of consumers
choosing a meat-free dish (p≤0.001). This was consistent with other research
(Downs et al., 2009; Just and Wansink, 2009). The attractiveness of menu dishes
had a significant influence on food choice enabling prediction of the choice
(p≤0.001), whereas the presence of information on a default menu provided
statistically insignificant interactions (p=0.534). Additional information is
less effective at motivating behaviour change at an individual-scale and with
real time choices due to immediate or intuitive factors that dominate
decisions, especially when time pressure and distractions conspire to prevent
personal deliberation (Shiv and Fedorikhin, 1999; Ariely and Loewenstein,
2006). The study design did not record ‘actual’ food choice or consumption,
hence exaggeration of environmentally-friendly behaviour could have occurred
(de Boer et al., 2009; Bray et al., 2011).
combination as a nudge
previously discussed, Becchetti et al. (2020) provided marginally significant
results when implementing three posters/labels, highlighting the effectiveness
of consumers environmental responsibility (+2%; p≤0.01). These findings
exceeded the results of Hainmueller et al.’s (2015) study. Consumers believe
that this form of intervention can affect other consumers choices by up to 80%,
coinciding with the theory that social norms have strong effects on consumer
purchasing habits (Collins et al., 2019; Liu et al., 2019).
D as a nudge
et al.’s (2019) ‘Dish of the Day’ (veggie balls) intervention provided
statistically insignificant results across four countries (p=0.109-0.865). This
is in contrast to many studies that have shown that D nudges can promote
healthier purchase behaviour (McDaniel et al., 2001; Feldman et al., 2011). The
unappealing nature of the veggie balls could have resulted from a lack of
detailed information accompanying the dish and the equality it was given
amongst the other two dishes, lowering participants’ attention to the default
dish. Females from the UK and Denmark were more likely to choose the D target
dish, especially when more importance was given to sensory factors and
universalism (p=0.042 and p=0.033), supporting the view that peoples’ concern
about nature could be effective for SFC (Worsley et al., 2016). Zhou et al.
(2019) highlighted that default-based interventions can be important tools in motivating
pro-environmental behaviour and serve to complement information and educational
efforts over the long-term. However, this could be seen as underhanded and
choice constraining, limiting freedom and autonomy of decison makers.
P as a nudge
a nudge has the potential to encourage SFC, it is a relatively cheap and easily
implemented strategy that generally goes unnoticed by consumers. Garnett et al.
(2019) highlighted that meal selection is neither fixed nor random but rather
partially determined by availability. By increasing the proportion of
vegetarian choice uptake significantly increased, reflecting past research
(Holloway et al., 2012; Lombardini and Lankoski, 2013; Bianchi et al., 2018).
The greatest impact was measured amongst participants who were least likely to
chose vegetarian dishes before the intervention (p≤0.001), corresponding with
Scarborough’s findings (2014).
combination as a nudge
Coucke et al. (2019) and Vandenbroele et al. (2018) provided statistically
significant results for encouraging sustainable food choice (p˂0.05
and p=0.001 respectively), however the studies lacked information on either
sample size or duration. Vandenbroele et al. (2018) suggested that nudging
consumers at point of purchase, rather than at moment of consumption, led to a
13% reduction in meat (kg) purchased and helped to change consumers purchase
behaviour, concurring with previous research (Arno and Thomas, 2016; Vermeer et
al., 2010). Coucke et al. (2019) supported this theory by suggesting that
increasing the display size and quantity of more sustainable meat products
(poultry), increased sustainable choices (+13%). When the intervention was
removed sales of the sustainable meat product decreased, highlighting that
visual cues can have an impact on consumers behaviour (Van Kleef et al., 2012;
Wilson et al., 2016; Helmefalk and Berndt, 2018). Overall, D/P combination is
an effective nudge for promoting and encouraging consumers to change their
behaviour to more SFC practices.
this review has established the potential of certain nudging interventions for
encouraging sustainable food choices and SFC. Strategies that required little
involvement (system 1) from consumers, produced higher statistically
significant outcomes compared to nudging interventions which required more
deliberation (system 2). Gender, sensory factors, attractiveness, and type of
target dish played a pivotal role in encouraging sustainable food choices.
Females were influenced by interventions significantly more than males.
Proximity, placement, and information encouraged consumers to adopt more
sustainable food choices and the overall presentation, portion size and choice
of sustainable alternatives played a key role in encouraging consumers into SFC.
Successful nudges included P, D/P combination, SA, D/SA combination and I/MN/SA
combination. These five nudges utilised intervention strategies that enhancing
availability and accessibility, promoted consumers environmental
responsibility, altered portions sizes, offered food alternatives upon request,
and targeted appealing dishes in combination with a default menu. Five studies
that utilised D, SA combination and P/SA combination all provided insignificant
results. Interventions such as ‘Dish of the Day’, activating injuctive norms
and sustainability labels, with additional information, proved ineffective
tools for promoting sustainable food choices. The effectiveness of nudging is
optimal when utilsied together with information campaigns, economic incentives
and education, and hindered by factors including bias, intention-behaviour gap
and external influences such as social norms, environmental determinants and
financial status (Broers et al., 2017; Taufika et al., 2019).
SR had several limitations. The search terms “nudges, nudging or nudge theory”
may have lead to many undetected studies being left out, as well as
“behavioural interventions” not being included in the search strategy may have
limited the outcome. The studies were mainly heterogeneous with different
interventions measured. Participants were mainly students or staff and the
intervention settings were primarily universities, restricting greater external
validity. All of the studies were undertaken in developed and highly
westernised countries, hence further research should be undertaken in
developing countries to allow for better understanding of the effectiveness of
nudging interventions. Only English papers were eligible, hence a possibility
of missing important relevant studies in other languages. Furthermore, this SR
has been conducted by a single reviewer which could potentially cause bias on
screening, rating and synthesis of the studies.
of the studies, bar one, focused on short-term effectiveness of nudging and
thus more research should be undertaken to understand if nudging is
effective in the long-term. Further research regarding gender, sensory
influences, dish attractiveness, multiple norms, intention-behaviour gap and
tinkering could be addressed in conjuction with nudging interventions to better
understand how more sustainable eating can be achieved in real-life situations,
strengthening evidence and knowledege of how nudging might encourage SFC.
qualitative research should also be undertaken to enable greater understanding
of what occurs in non-controlled environments. Ethical consideration of nudging
and transparency is required in any future use of the technique in order to
address the issue of freedom or autonomy in decision-making.
number of people that can be supported within planetary boundaries in part
depends on their choices (Cohen, 2017). The massive environmental impact of
agriculture and the food industry mean that food choices will become of
increasing importance. People are at the centre of sustainable development and
with global population projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050 (United
Nations, 2019), individual and collective human choices coupled with
environmentally sustainable practices will be key drivers to enable a
sustainable expansion in food production (Cohen, 2017). Nudging may play a role
in changing behaviour toward habits of sustainable food consumption.
would like to thank Professor Adrian Newton, his support, guidance, and
patience made it possible to complete this review. I would also like to
acknowledge the contributions of the two anonymous reviewers and JP&S
editor David Samways in developing this paper. My thanks also to family and
friends for their support.
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