Good Food for Cities

Are supermarkets helping us towards a sustainable diet? Superlist wants to find out.

April 21, 2022
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Are supermarkets helping us to eat sustainably? That question is the subject of new comparative research by Questionmark Foundation, supported by Rikolto and Test Aankoop, in cooperation with BOS+, IEW, FoodWIN and Bond Beter Leefmilieu. Superlist is the first international study that maps the performance of supermarkets throughout the years. In Belgium, the first study with a focus on the environment is launched today with the publication of the research method. Results are expected in November. The research method is developed under the supervision of a scientific board.

In the coming months, Superlist Environment will be studying Colruyt, Delhaize, Carrefour, Aldi and Lidl. The combined market share of those supermarkets adds up to more than 80%. The efforts that are being researched include reducing sales of animal protein, choosing sustainable produce and working to prevent deforestation and food waste.

Food plays a crucial part in the climate challenge. Supermarkets hold a key role.

According to the IPCC-report from last April, food systems are responsible for 42% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, household diets are responsible for 28% of the ecological footprint. Food choices determine between 48% and 70% of the impact on the households’ use of land and water.

“Over 80% of the food that ends up on our plates comes from supermarkets”, says Jelle Goossens from Rikolto. “That is why supermarkets can significantly contribute to establishing environmental and climate friendly food patterns and to creating a sustainable food chain.”

Simon November from Test Aankoop: “Through Superlist, we want to offer insight in the ways supermarkets are already contributing today. Next to this, this research will offer specific recommendations that both supermarkets and politicians can implement to improve. We highly value this constructive-critical approach.”

Focus on 3 topics

Superlist Environment focusses on 3 main topics that hold the greatest potential to reduce the impact food has on the planet. These topics are sustainable agriculture, protein shift, and food waste. The topics were determined with the support and expertise of partners BOS+, IEW (Inter-Environnement Wallonie), Bond Beter Leefmilieu and FoodWIN.

“Excessive use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides disrupt the natural cycles. This has a negative impact on water, health and soil. Superlist is looking into the measures supermarkets take to stimulate environmentally friendly agricultural practices and to create the easy choice for sustainable products”, says Corentin Roland from IEW.

Pieter Van De Sype, policy officer at BOS+: “Superlist also checks whether supermarkets take action to prevent deforestation, especially with respect to the cultivation of soy, palm oil and cocoa. Deforestation caused by (livestock) farming contributes to the climate crisis and to biodiversity loss.”

Our meat consumption causes a major environmental impact.
Heleen De Smet from Bond Beter Leefmilieu: “The average Belgian diet contains a relatively large amount of animal proteins, such as meat and cheese. This puts a lot of pressure on the environment in the current agricultural system. Both on a European level and Belgian level, actions are being taken towards plant-based diets. Superlist analyzes what supermarkets are doing to guide consumers towards the plant-based choice.”

Over 80% of the food that ends up on our plates is from supermarkets. That is why supermarkets can offer a significant contribution to establishing environmental and climate friendly food patterns and to creating a sustainable food chain. Jelle Goossens, Rikolto in Belgium

Finally, food waste is an continuous problem as well. “In Flanders alone about 907,000 tons of food is wasted annually. That is why Superlist is analyzing to what extent supermarkets have plans to counteract food waste in the supermarkets, at the level of their suppliers and with the consumers”, says Gil Op de Beeck from FoodWIN.

A scientifically backed research method

The research method of Superlist specifies for every topic the measures supermarkets can take and the corresponding indicators that are used to evaluate the actual actions of supermarkets.

Questionmark Foundation developed the research method in collaboration with a scientific board that specialises in agriculture, the environment, sustainability, consumer behaviour and retail. The supermarkets have also been consulted, though Questionmark had the final say in the matter.

Charlotte Linnebank, director at Questionmark: “Superlist is the first multi-year European study that provides insights in what supermarkets are doing to help their customers make the healthy, sustainable, animal friendly and fair choice.”

European collaboration

Sustainability is a complex matter. For that reason, the Superlist research has been split into several themes. “The study for Superlist Environment has now started. In the near future, we also want to tackle the themes of human rights and health”, says Jelle Goossens from Rikolto.

Superlist was first launched in 2020 in the Netherlands, where the reports on the themes health, environment and animal welfare have already been published. In addition, two Superlists have been published in the United Kingdom and the research for the first Superlist in Sweden has started.

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Research method

The research method is available for download. The research report with Superlist Environment results is to be expected at the beginning of November.

Consult the research method (PDF)

Superlist was made possible thanks to financial contributions of Rikolto, Test Aankoop, EU LIFE and the Belgian Directorate-general Development Cooperation.

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