The National Food Strategy: how will the plan navigate us to a healthy and sustainable diet?

Date : 27 July 2021

Hannah Pearse

Head of Nutrition and Scientific Affairs

On 15th July Henry Dimbleby published The National Food strategy - Part two. ‘The Plan’ is an independent review of the English food system. It recognises that our current system is unsustainable and damaging to both the planet and our health. Change is needed, and soon.

Henry sets out 14 bold recommendations for the government to implement under four strategic objectives:

  • Escape the “junk food cycle”, protect the NHS
  • Reduce diet-related inequality
  • Make best use of land
  • Create long-term shift in food culture

IGD has summarised the full plan here.

Many of the recommendations will prove challenging, and we are yet to see which the Government will implement, but IGD very much supports the direction of travel set out in ‘The Plan’, and we are already working with industry stakeholders on a number of relevant areas highlighted within it.

Health from IGD: How we align with the strategy

The National Food Strategy highlights the role of diets as part of developing a sustainable food system which aligns with our own ambition to make healthy and sustainable diets easy for everyone.

With extensive research and resources already available, we are well placed to make a positive difference by mobilising the industry to help deliver long-term positive change

Escape the “junk food cycle”, protect the NHS

Championing healthier products

The strategy recognises the importance of reformulation and proposes a tax on sugar and salt to accelerate this (Recommendation 1).

Regardless as to whether the salt and sugar tax is implemented, it is broadly accepted that whole population strategies, such as reformulation, that remove the onus from the individual to make the ‘healthier’ choice can be effective. As well as focusing on removing the nutrients we should be eating less of, the strategy highlights the importance of eating more positive foods - including fibre, fruits, vegetables and pulses. It also looks more broadly at dietary shift, emphasising the potential to reduce portion sizes and our meat intake. In fact, Henry Dimbleby recommends at least a 30% reduction in the population’s meat consumption to improve both health and environmental outcomes.

Our consumer research into healthy and sustainable diets, Appetite for Change1, found that many people are reluctant to give up meat. But with half the meat we currently consume being within processed foods, there is a huge opportunity to reformulate with vegetables or meat alternatives, as well as improving the recipes of foods eaten in and out of the home in general.

Create long-term shift in food culture

Shifting diets

Throughout the strategy it articulates the need for a dietary shift- Eating less processed foods, (high in fat, salt and sugar), less meat and dairy and more fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins.

Source: The National Food Strategy: The Plan – July 2021

This is aligned with our own programme of research where we are working with the University of Leeds and over 20 leading organisations to understand the best ways to drive healthier and more sustainable diets.

One challenge working in this space is trying to define a healthy and sustainable diet. Based on the existing evidence, our project group has agreed to use the government’s Eatwell Guide to inform the direction of travel. However, although it is widely accepted that this way of eating is beneficial both for our health and the planet, the guide has not been modelled with sustainability outcomes in mind. We therefore welcome the recommendation to establish and update this reference diet by the Food Standards Agency. This will help everyone align behind a common goal.

Changing behaviour

The strategy acknowledges that habits are formed over many years. It will not be easy to make the required changes at pace and it is noted we will require long term political commitment.

Our Appetite for Change research recognises that for people to make change, education alone will not be enough. Change is possible but it needs to be easy and targeted. Working with Behaviour change experts we have identified five of the most promising behavioural levers which we are testing in stores this year. We will share our results publicly and widely to inspire others to adopt our best practice, so together we can drive meaningful and sustained change.


Although education on its own will not be enough, our research2 demonstrated that environmental labelling was popular with consumers and could be important in helping those who have made changes to sustain them3. The National Food strategy also recognises this, proposing that IGD and Defra develop a harmonised and consistent food labelling system to describe the environmental impacts of food products. IGD is well placed to support this with our extensive research and best practice on front of pack labelling.

IGD resources to support you now

Next steps for us and you

Whilst we await Defra’s white paper in 6 months time, we encourage all businesses big and small to consider the implications of the National Food Strategy, and what steps they can start to take now.

We will continue to work with our industry and non-industry stakeholders towards our ambition to make healthy and sustainable diets easy for everyone.

We all have a role to play, but our impact will be much greater if we come together to drive the change required.

1 Appetite for Change, IGD, 2020
2 Appetite for Change, IGD, 2020
3 Appetite for Change, IGD, 2020