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  • Final Report Summary - VEGGIEAT (To critically evaluate vegetable acceptability through individual and environmental characteristics across the lifespan in institutional food service)

Final Report Summary - VEGGIEAT (To critically evaluate vegetable acceptability through individual and environmental characteristics across the lifespan in institutional food service)

Population health and the state of the planet rely on a food system that respects planetary boundaries and prioritises societal health. The FAO (2016) identifies lifestyle, symbolised by eating out as an important aspect that must be considered for improving sustainability from a societal perspective. There is a growing interest in the future of current dietary patterns in light of cultural changes, climate change and an expanding global population as demonstrated by the research and innovation strategy of Food2030. The expected 76 % rise in the global appetite for meat and animal products by 2050 could increase greenhouse gases by 80 % calling for action to mitigate climate change induced by livestock. This dietary shift is a further threat to sustainability given the high resource footprint of producing animal-derived food products, a factor underpinning a growing interest amongst some consumers for more 'sustainable diets' based upon alternative sources of protein such as from vegetables. These are one of the most difficult categories of food to introduce into a diet especially within a foodservice operation.
Hence, the aim of VeggiEAT is to develop an EU platform for predictive modelling of processed vegetable intake that takes into account individual characteristics (acceptability, intake level, age groups) as well as environmental cues (choice architecture). Processed vegetables, including, canned and frozen varieties provide a convenient way to help promote intake as they have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterpart, are available out of season, can take advantage of surplus or over production, can have cost advantages and are easy to use in commercial meal preparation and dish development. This latter aspect enables them to be incorporated into production schedules where labour is limited or unskilled or equipment is not available. The project arises because the foodservice industry provides 40% of food consumed outside the home and unlike the food industry has been slow to respond to the emerging agenda of health and sustainability. The competitive nature of the market means that there is a resistance to change and cooperation between companies as an avoidance of risk. Historically, research programmes within the field have had a one-dimensional aspect such as nutrition but this does not take into account the broader issues such as sensory aspects, eating environment and consumer science. It means that the academic influence so far to the foodservice industry has been somewhat inadequate and missing the rising potential of contributing to a successful strategy and business vision for 2030 and beyond.

Project Objectives and Milestones
The project was organised into five work packages (WP). The objective of WP2 was to evaluate the sensory characteristics of the vegetables that would influence their choice by different age groups. Results from the consumer study showed that both seniors and adolescents sort vegetable samples in relation to sensory properties that are relevant for their hedonic judgment about the product. Appearance seems to be less relevant for seniors than for adolescents in discriminating samples. Older respondents tend to focus their attention more on texture and hedonic terms. In addition, the more familiar respondents are with a specific food, the more they will like and prefer it. For instance, French and Italian adolescents were more familiar with and expressed a higher stated liking for peas than for sweet corn. An opposite trend was observed for Danish and British adolescents. The within-product approach used in this study, highlighted that, independently from familiarity and stated liking, main drivers of actual liking and disliking are the same across countries and ages. Sweetness, in opposition to bitterness and sourness. The influence of saltiness on liking was positive for peas but negative for sweet corn. Similarly, softness was positively related to liking for peas and negatively for sweet corn. Richness in flavour and in colour was strongly correlated to liking for both peas and sweetcorn. This information can be considered by food producers and the catering sector when promoting the consumption of peas and sweetcorn in Europe. Next, the objective of WP3 was to select the products and factors for the intervention study (WP4) through the development and acceptability assessment of recipes and dishes and through pilot testing of choice architecture (CA) design. Dishes were designed by culinary masters’ students in France keeping in mind relevant costs and ease of replication. Revised versions of the three selected recipes were then sent to the four countries (DK, FR IT, and UK) for evaluation, to assess the acceptability of each dish, to propose improvements and to suggest a name for each dish appropriate for the target consumers. A vegetable burger fully reflected global nutritional guidelines and since it was also acceptable to consumers, was the one taken through to the field testing stage. Subsequently we had to identify the most appropriate nudge to test. Dish of the day was selected, which relies on the premise that people tend to prefer the status quo. A natural field experiment was implemented in order to study the conditions in which this type of nudge contributes to increasing the probability of choosing a vegetable-rich dish in a self-service restaurant. On completion findings provided evidence to confirm the use of this nudge for WP 4. For the field test, a total of 380 adolescents and 345 older citizens from the four countries participated. The two questionnaire design applied consisted of sociodemographic characteristics and hunger scale (questionnaire 1); food related lifestyle (adherence to Mediterranean Diet, Food Frequency Questionnaire, Food Neophobia, Buffet View); personal values (Human Values Scale, self-efficacy, social norms and self-estimated health) and attitudes towards nudging.
The experimental design comprised two conditions: neutral and nudge. The VeggiEAT dish consisted of vegetable “polpettes” (balls) incorporating peas and sweet corn, the alternative dishes were traditional meatballs (made with beef) or fish cakes (made with white minced fish). All the dishes were served with rice or pasta, salad and tomato sauce. The key result is that this nudging strategy,”dish of the day”, did not work for our sample under the experimental conditions. Hence, a further study was conducted to test the hypothesis if two nudges are more effective than one. The CA intervention employed was designed to test if using the “Dish of the Day” as a single nudging, and combining it with product placement, would inflate (Or not) the choice of the targeted dish (vegetarian), overall and by gender. The results suggest that in a real foodservice situation, the use of nudging strategies might be a good approach to stimulate people to include a vegetarian option within their food choice. The percentage of people who chose the vegetarian option increased when one nudge was used, and increased even more when two nudges were employed. However, the increment of choices between 1 and 2 nudges was not significant, indicating the hypothesis embedded within the Veggieat project can be accepted (adopting a nudging strategy can influence food choice towards a plant based dish). An interesting finding from this research was that the use of a single nudge worked for females, but not for males, who were only affected when two nudges were combined.
Lastly WP5 established the model(s) that will bring together the results from the exposure study and the choice architecture study, and combine in one data set consumer characteristics, foodscape, and other attitudinal factors. All of these were synthesized in model(s) aimed at the identification of the factors that determines vegetable consumption across age groups in canteen settings. As no differences were found between control and intervention groups in the choice of dish for both adolescents and seniors, this variable was recoded as plant-based dish (VeggiEAT dish) and animal-based dish (meatballs +fish cakes). Binary logistic regression analyses were used to assess associations between choice of dish (dependent variable: plant-based and animal-based dish) and independent variables. A binary logistic regression model adjusted by gender, Mediterranean score, hunger scale, attitudes towards nudging, self-efficacy and food neophobia was run to check if differences would be found in relation to the outcome (choice of the dish). Additional models with the same purpose were run with social norms scale and self-estimated health; with each dimension of FCQ and with each dimension of the Human Values Scale. For the full model, including gender; Mediterranean score; food neophobia; self-efficacy, hunger scale and attitudes towards nudging, differences were not found in relation to the choice of plant-based dish for seniors. On the other hand, it was found that male adolescents were 67% less likely to choose the plant-based dish and those who scored higher in the nudging scale; were 8% more likely to choose the plant-based dish.
In conclusion, it was observed that different factors seem to drive adolescents and seniors in their food choice.

The EU Action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases 2013-2020 has as its goal ‘to reduce the preventable and avoidable burden of morbidity, mortality and disability due to non-communicable diseases by means of multi-sectoral collaboration and cooperation so that populations reach the highest attainable standards of health and productivity at every age and those diseases are no longer a barrier to well-being or socioeconomic development’. The overarching principle of a life course approach that empowers foodservice is reflected in this academia/industry programme which considers adolescents to seniors and encouragement of vegetable dish selection.

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Reported by

United Kingdom


Life Sciences
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