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Expert view–the business case for sustainable food

28 September 2015

Why should companies invest in sustainable food production? Dr Boyka Bratanova recently spoke about her research at an event organised by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA).

Held at the Newman Street Tavern in London, journalists were invited to sample a range of foods – replicating Dr Bratanova’s work on ethical food giving consumers more enjoyment.

SRA President and renowned chef Raymond Blanc hosted the event, which was organised to launch a new branch of the SRA – Food Made Good – aimed at the end consumer.

What did the event in London involve?

“After a warm welcome, the guests were seated around tables and served four food items to sample: scrambled eggs, bacon, chocolate, and apple juice. The food sampling was actually a demonstration study patterned after my original research.

“Prior to sampling each food item, the guests read a brief description on how the food has been sourced. The food items were described as either ethically sourced – for example, organic bacon or free range eggs – or produced conventionally.

“Each guest believed they are sampling two ethically sourced and two conventionally produced food items; the order was varied to minimise hypothesis guessing. In fact, all guests consumed the same food. After all guests have finished completing the questionnaire, I analysed the data and prepared a brief report.

“During this time the SRA president, Raymond Blanc, and the SRA managing director, Mark Linehan, addressed the guests. Mark spoke about the challenges and successes the SRA has experienced during the five years of its operation.

“Raymond delivered a passionate talk about the importance of the morality of food, and the unique opportunity the UK has in taking the world lead on sustainable food consumption.

“Finally, I talked to the guests about my research on taste and morality, and explained why we should expect a link between judgments of morality and oral sensations. I shared with them the findings from two sets of studies – one supporting the case for societal sustainability, and the other establishing the link between food’s ethical origin and enhanced taste experience.

“I also reported the results from the demonstration study, which closely mirrored the original findings; that is, when the guests believed they sampled ethically sourced food, they reported higher moral satisfaction, and greater enjoyment of the food’s taste.”

Why is your research important for restaurants and other food businesses?

“My research provides support for a business case for producing and serving sustainable food: consumers enjoy the taste better and are prepared to pay a higher price for it; businesses are therefore incentivised to engage in sustainable practices, not only for moral reasons but also as a form of advertisement and a way to gain competitive advantage.

“It really is a win-win situation, with the biggest winners being our society and our planet.”

Does this suggest companies should focus on ethical food production, to boost their business success?

“I’d say so. The demand for ethically produced food has been growing steadily in the past three decades.

“It appears that people’s appetite for ethical food is far from reaching satiation, so businesses can expect to have an increase in sales if they adopt sustainable practices and advertise those to their clients.”

What's next for your research?

“I would like to examine the neural basis for the link between taste and morality. Previous research strongly suggests that both the experience of moral satisfaction and the enjoyment of palatable food should activate the same brain region associated with reward processing. However, this has not been directly studied and demonstrated.

“If we find such evidence, it would present an even stronger case for investing in sustainable food production, and will deepen our understanding of the embodied nature of morality judgments.”

For more information about studying and researching business at Abertay, please visit the Dundee Business School pages.

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