Helping people to eat well at work

Date : 26 February 2019

A full-time worker consumes around a third of their daily energy intake at work, so this environment can have a big influence on their diet and health.


Most food and drink companies would agree they have an important part to play in supporting consumer health. Many have shown this by:

  • providing more nutrition information on pack
  • adjusting recipes to make them healthier
  • promoting products more carefully
  • introducing new healthier options

However, as well as supporting consumers, it’s also important that companies consider their own employees.

There’s growing evidence from behavioural science that the shape of an environment has a major impact on outcomes. In other words, changes in your work environment can affect the choices you make. Small, sometimes unnoticed changes in how options are presented (sometimes called ‘nudges’) can encourage healthier choices.

This was the thinking behind our recent experiments with the Behaviour and Health Research Unit of the University of Cambridge. In a world first, we’ve been testing different ways to help people make healthier choices in workplace restaurants. The experiments took place between 2016 and 2018 at 19 workplace restaurants in 14 companies and involved 17,000 people. They represent one of the largest experiments of its kind in a real-life setting.

Three ways to help people eat well at work

Our advice is based on the three areas we tested:

  • Offer a balanced choice - altering the range of food available to tip the balance in favour of health is a proven route to encourage healthier eating. There is a strong commercial case for getting your offer right on health too. Indeed, IGD’s ShopperVista research reveals nearly one-third (31%) of consumers would eat out more often if healthier options were more available1
  • Reduce portion sizes - most people, in most circumstances, tend to consume more if they are offered bigger portions. Cutting back on portions is therefore an effective approach to help people eat less without affecting taste or choice
  • Provide calorie information - nutrition information helps consumers make informed choices. But too much information can be difficult to absorb in a restaurant setting so displaying the energy information simply and clearly is the priority

The results

The research proved that simple changes can make a substantial difference. Provided they are managed well, people are happy when changes are made in their workplace restaurant to support their wellbeing.

The strongest results, measured by reduction in calories sold, were achieved by adapting the range of food and drink available, and reducing portion sizes.

Calorie labels were less effective in terms of creating sustained behaviour change, but very popular with consumers at the restaurants involved. We recommend this option to help people make informed choices.

How to inspire change in your workplace

Ideally, healthy eating should sit as part of a broader health and wellbeing programme, addressing both the physical and mental needs of employees. If you want to encourage healthier eating at your workplace you will have greatest impact if you address it as part of a longer-term commitment.

Step 1 – Get the right people on board
Getting senior-level commitment will empower your people to suggest and make changes. If you don’t have this already, ask one of the senior leaders in your business to sponsor and champion healthy eating in the workplace.

Step 2 - Assess your current offering and set some targets
Make these realistic, you can always set the targets higher over time.

Step 3 - Make a series of changes
Take a series of steps rather than making lots of changes at once. This way, you can see what does and doesn’t work and you can backtrack on some of the changes if necessary.

Step 4 - Measure impact
Consider how to measure the impact of your programme, for example through sales of healthier meals and colleague satisfaction. Morale is a vital factor in any wellbeing programme so ask your colleagues for their feedback and be prepared to adapt your approach without sacrificing your end goal.

IGD’s new guide shares the learnings from the experiments through simple and practical tips that any employer providing food and drink at work can implement. Aimed at management and catering providers, the guide helps business leaders to promote wellbeing at work and provides step-by-step guidance for those involved in catering.

1IGD Shopper Vista 1,700+ All shoppers, Apr ‘18

Scientific research results are published in: