About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Improving food out of the home

For most of us, our neighbourhoods and our daily lives would be unrecognisable without them; our cafes, bakeries, our local chippy, our favourite restaurant or the supermarket we nip into to grab a sandwich on the go.

Known collectively as the out of home food sector, and including anywhere food or drink is purchased for immediate consumption outside the home, these places are part of the fabric of our lives. This is evidenced by the fact in Scotland we spend £3.6bn a year in the sector – a quarter of our total food and drink spend – and we make around three trips a week on average.

But there is a problem. With bigger portion sizes and products that are typically high in fat, sugar and salt, the calorie content of products served at these outlets is often higher than for the food we eat at home. In Scotland, around a quarter of our entire calorie intake comes from the out of home sector.

This is a problem because across the UK, and in Scotland in particular, our weight is creating a health crisis. As much as 63% of the UK adult population is overweight or living with obesity. Scotland has the highest levels of obesity of all UK nations and, due to its contribution to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, obesity is now the leading cause of death in Scotland.

To tackle this deadly crisis, we need to stem the tide of unhealthy food and reshape our local environments into places where healthier food options are available, accessible and affordable for everyone. With such a significant role in our diets, it is clear the out of home sector needs to be part of that change.

We surveyed independent out of home businesses and interviewed owners and trade bodies, mostly based in Scotland, to understand what businesses thought about their own role in tackling the crisis.

Businesses and trade bodies told us two things would be most effective in driving change in their industry – mandatory legislation from governments and an increase in consumer demand.

Many businesses pointed to a lack of existing demand for healthier options but said if that changed they would respond to it. However, people cannot buy what isn’t available, so measuring consumer demand for healthier options in places which aren’t selling them is an unreliable metric at best.

What’s more, research from Food Standards Scotland has shown that consumers in Scotland do want to see interventions that place tighter controls on unhealthy food or encourage healthier food in the out of home sector, with a majority of people supportive of measures such as calorie labelling, healthier children’s options and smaller portions.

Businesses also cited cost pressures – resulting from the rising cost of energy and ingredients, the cost of living crisis impacting customer demand and a lack of available and skilled labour – as all affecting their willingness and ability to provide healthier options.

In the next few months, the Scottish Government will publish its Eating Out Eating Well framework, created in consultation with industry and local authorities. It will include guidance and support for measures such as calorie labelling and a children’s menu code of practice. But the framework will be entirely voluntary.

Without the carrot of consumer demand or the stick of mandatory legislation, businesses are largely sceptical of interventions to promote and improve access to healthier food options. But there is a clear and urgent need to make the sector healthier.

Stimulating consumer demand will play a role and will help to allay businesses’ concerns in challenging economic times. However, it will take layers of intervention across the out of home sector to create the change needed, and businesses will need to buy into the process to make it work.

More research and practical action is needed to understand what measures will work to improve the supply and promotion of healthier options in the sector, from calorie labelling to tweaking recipes to business incentives and price promotions.

Our takeaways, cafes, restaurants and shops are so important to our neighbourhoods, our enjoyment of community life and our local economies, but they need to be better at enabling healthier choices. To achieve that, we need to explore, test and uncover the most effective measures that empower us to eat well and enjoy healthier options when out and about.


Frances Bain

Frances Bain

Frances Bain

Mission Manager (Scotland), healthy life mission

Frances is Nesta’s mission manager for Scotland working on the healthy life mission and based with the Scotland team in Edinburgh.

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