Supermarkets could soon face a huge redesign to encourage healthier, more sustainable eating habits among customers.
A new scheme, headed up by Oxford University researchers and funded by the Wellcome Trust, has proposed that supermarkets switch up their aisles containing meat products so that they also stock vegetarian alternatives.
Those who opt for meat-free alternatives could also be rewarded with loyalty points or vouchers and be offered free vegetarian recipe cards, the Guardian reported.
The first supermarket to get on board with the scheme is Sainsbury’s.
A spokesperson for the company told The Huffington Post UK: “We are seeing an increasing number of customers choose to have meat free days as part of a ‘flexitarian’ diet, and choose dairy alternatives. But for many this will be a short term trend.
“Through this research with Oxford University, we are looking at how we can help customers make more informed choices and encourage long-term sustainable and healthy diets.”
A recent study by Oxford University found that if more people adopted a vegetarian diet, it could prevent 7.3 million deaths globally per year by 2050.
It has also been predicted that in the same period of time, greenhouse gas emissions related to food production will account for half of the world’s total emissions if nothing is done to stop it.
Dr Marco Springmann, who leads the team of Oxford University scientists, told MindFood: “Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions.
“At the same time the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore a major driver of climate change.
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.”
The new scheme is being funded as part of a £5 million Wellcome Trust programme called ‘Our Planet, Our Health’.
It comes as increasing numbers of people are shunning meat for vegetarian and vegan diets.
There are now over half a million vegans in Britain, according to research from The Vegan Society in partnership with Vegan Life magazine - that’s an increase of over 350% over the past decade. Another body of research found that one in three people now identify as flexitarians - or part-time vegetarians.
Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed branded the healthy eating incentive as “very interesting”.
“It’s good to see supermarkets starting to really tackle health as, ultimately, that is where we make the food choices that may go on to impact our health,” she said.
“We’ve long known that environments play a huge role in the choices we make, and therefore adapting the supermarket to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption could be a really successful intervention.”
She concluded: “I think any change that promotes healthy living is brilliant. Changing the shopping environment and encouraging people to cook more and buy less processed foods is certainly a positive step.”