Citizens for the Foodture

Citizens for the Foodture


In the last quarter of 2016, VECO Belgium initiated a cocreation process with retail professionals and consumers. Our common goal? To come up with tools and processes to mainstream sustainable food consumption. Will we succeed to break out of the gridlock in which consumers, on the one hand point to supermarkets to act on sustainability and supermarkets, on the other hand, fear to lose market share when they do so?

Consumer, the actor least involved in the chain?

When setting-up multi-stakeholder processes to develop more sustainable agri-food chains, consumers tend to be excluded. Whereas consumers can enhance more sustainable food systems by means of their purchase behavior. The last decade we have witnessed a changing mindset among consumer preferences towards more sustainability. 50 to 80% of the citizens say they are interested in sustainability issues. Even if this is not reflected in their purchasing behavior, they are aware that their consumer behavior has an impact on the sustainability of the food system.

Then why are they often ‘forgotten’ in multi-stakeholder processes. First of all “the average consumer” doesn’t exist. Consumers show many different preferences, attitudes and behaviors and cannot be represented by one average voice. Secondly, literature has clearly exposed the attitude-behavior gap. Citizens tend to consent to the necessity of sustainable consumption, but this pro-sustainable attitude is not reflected into the shopping trolley. In Belgium, only 7% of the food purchases can be classified as ‘sustainable’, a low percentage compared to the 50 to 80% of citizens saying they are interested in sustainability issues.

This gap can be explained while looking at how food purchasing decisions are taken. When it comes to food, many people make buying decisions on auto-pilot – hereby often seduced by price reductions or other marketing strategies. For most of their food purchases in supermarkets, consumers do not act rationally; most of the choices are automatic habits, without any reflections, and in a sub-conscious decision-making process. Consumers rarely notice new information or take rational criteria, such as sustainability concerns, into consideration..

Shifting supply, shifting demand

Therefore it seems obvious to put most efforts in choice-editing systems, removing non-sustainable products from the shelves in supermarkets, or explicitly promoting more sustainable products. Such promotion is not effective when only raising awareness or providing information; it only works by means of the usual marketing techniques (price, place, position, promotion). This can shift consumption patterns and food shopping behavior in a more effective way, for a larger group of consumers. But supermarkets will be reluctant to make many efforts for choice editing because consumers still want to find easily their usual products at good prices, and could move to another retailer.

And so an impasse is created: no demand, no supply.

Therefore we are finding out how a co-creation process between consumers and retailers can overcome this. When consumers and retailers are finding out together how they can cooperate on sustainability issues, there is a potential for co-ownership of the process from consumer side and there is potential for recognition and appreciation of the efforts done by the supermarket. The public support – created by the steering position of both consumers and retailers – generates a positive drive which stimulates retailers to expand their sustainable procurement policy. On the other hand, this public support can enhance community participation and valorise the efforts being done by retailers. Of course at the end this should also result in a turnover which is viable for the supermarket.

Citizens for the Foodture = co-creation, going beyond one-way consumer panels

In ‘Citizens for the Foodture’ consumers cooperated with retail professionals in order to examine which tools or mechanisms can bypass the attitude-behavior gap and be effective in the promotion of sustainable food. A lot of literature exist on this topic, but such tools have never been developed in co-creation. Consumer are often heard by retailers in the format of panels or focus groups when for instance a new product will be introduced. Of course this is not co-creation or co-ownership of a process focusing on sustainability issues. Co-creating from scratch with consumers is innovative in the food sector.

First steps of co-creation in 2016

In four co-creation sessions (September – November 2016) consumers and retailers co-created together. The five biggest retailers in Belgium have participated in this preliminary phase: Carrefour, Colruyt, Delhaize, Lidl and Aldi (North). The selected consumer panel (starting with 100 persons and ending with 40) more or less represents the diversity of the Belgian consumer community : from the convinced consumer (who regularly buys fairtrade, bio,…) to the ‘willing but not doing’ consumer – which is estimated to be the largest group in Belgium (70%).

We want to develop tools that could make these middle groups move towards more sustainable purchases because this would have the highest impact. After a first common round of brainstorming for excellent ideas, the expertise of retail sustainability managers and marketeers helped the consumers giving direction to their ideas and checking the viability and feasibility because they know very well how their consumers respond to different marketing strategies. Result: seven ideas are ready to be tested: Pay what you want- Pricing; Good Food Score; Green Card; Farmer looks for consumer looks for farmer; Easy Pick; Easy Click for online sales;

Shop in the Shop

It is remarkable that some of the ideas show similarities with ideas already being thought about by retailers. Some of them even are tested in the shops, but not very visible apparently or at small scale. But this positive signal from the consumers encouraged retail marketeers to put more efforts in this kind of experiments. For more information see: (in Dutch).

2017 and onwards

In 2017 we will try to encourage/convince/support retailers to implement some of these ideas in their shops (as an experiment), adapted to their own specific retail style/brand. If successful, we will work on upscaling mechanisms. In the next few years, we will continue to build on this co-creation and co-ownership experience and we want to set up joint processes between retailers and consumer communities around shops or around retailers. We hope this will lead to a strong community participation around sustainable food chains together with retailers and consumers.

A broader platform representing different actors of the agri food sector is following this project and has the potential to contribute to upscaling. The members of this platform are: Comeos (Belgian federation of the retailers), FEVIA (Belgian federation of the food industry), Boerenbond (farmer organization), the Shift (Belgian platform on Corporate Social Responsibility), Fair Trade Belgium and Vredeseilanden (VECO).