Today, dietary risks underpin critical health problems such as stunting, wasting and chronic hunger, as well as non-communicable conditions such as overweight and obesity, and diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Food production contributes over 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and affects ecosystems through unsustainable land use practices.
Consumers and citizens actions in the marketplace shape our food systems, and yet the bulk of actions for food system transformation has traditionally concentrated on supply-side measures.
The idea of the DGA was conceived in a side session at the WEF SDG Tent at Davos in 2020 by EAT, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). DGA aims to emphasize the importance of consumer demand (consumer pull) for food system change. It is currently chaired by LeadGroup consisting of 7 organizations, active in the NGO, Academia, and Business sectors.
In the process of establishing the DGA, we reviewed published studies (Monterrosa, Zackin, LeClair, 2021), global food system reports and consumer iniatives and we concluded that to meet 2030 sustainability goals, we need a radical change in how we think and act in relation to food. Unless we address the underlying consumer preferences, policy and education efforts are unlikely to be enough to shift consumption habits for nutritious and sustainable foods.
The shift in mindset and preferences will come through coordinated, collaborative action that enables and shapes consumer demand, rather than waiting for it to emerge organically. These actions must be society-wide that complement and support ongoing initiatives. Cross-sector collaboration is necessary because no one sector can fully address consumer demand.
We have also learned that legislative victories happen when societal attitudes are in favor of a proposed change. For example, victories in marriage equality or tobacco laws have also been fought in the court of public opinion. The media’s portrayal of smoking or of homosexuality over 10–15-year period has given rise to new attitudes and societal norms.
The Demand Generation Alliance (DGA) has been established with a single vision Nutritious and sustainable food, the preferred consumer choice.
Our mission is to drive societal preferences towards nutritious and sustainable food by leveraging social and cultural strategies.
Why social and cultural strategies?
Society and culture underpin and greatly shape consumer food choices: they set up lifelong preferences and habits, which are often hard to break, and they influence what is acceptable and appropriate.
Social strategies can address the impact of social factors on food preferences, such as dinning experiences, social norms, peer networks, social status and social identities. Cultural strategies address moral aspects, values, symbols, narratives, and technologies and their impact on our food habits, cooking practices, and cuisine. Social and cultural strategies are deployed at society level. (Table 1).
Global Priority Actions to drive consumer demand
How Social and Cultural strategies can support
|To support consumer education, awareness and inform choice:||Today the ‘informed choice’ paradigm dominates the consumer education sector. Food-based dietary guidelines (FBDG) are a tool for consumer education. To influence purchases, labelling initiatives are used to sign-post to the consumer what is in their food or how it has been produced. To support consumer choice efforts, one must tap into a broader collective organized around values. Food cultures (also known as food movements), such as the Slow food or Organic food movements, are ways to organize that collective, because they are characterized by values for how one grows, buys, prepares and consumes food. Food cultures can give labels or FBDG new meanings, a symbol of a way of life and something one stands for.|
|To improve purchasing power or provide income support: ||Foods can express social status. In many countries, some nutritious and sustainable foods (legumes, some types of vegetables, nuts, and insects) are not usually aspirational and are ‘left behind’ as incomes rise. A cultural strategy might use media to create new symbols and narratives in film, tv, and award shows. A social strategy might drive new social expectations (norms) from those with social status (celebrities, upper class). Together, these strategies would aim to change the desirability and the buying and eating of ‘low-status’ foods.|
|To address the food environment:||Marketing at point of sale is influenced largely by consumer perceptions and consumer attention. Current perception challenges include ‘nutritious/healthy is not tasty’ or ‘eating vegan/vegetarian is boring’. Several cultural and social strategies could address these misperceptions, such as |
DGA Operating Model
The DGA has an ambitious 3-pillar model to deliver on its mission.
Pillar one: Build knowledge
Our actions are based on evidence, drawing from multiple disciplines, and ensuring that the work we do is strong.
- Integrate evidence and knowledge to support decision making and build awareness on social and cultural action
- Generate hypotheses about what works to catalyse additional research and test these, and
- In collaboration with coalitions and action groups, disseminate learnings to support translation into practice via tools
Pillar two: Strengthen collaborations
Effective coalitions emerge from a shared understanding of the issues, trust amongst partners across sectors and coordination of efforts.
- Convene and support dialogues and roundtables in countries and regions
- Illustrate connections across sectors and create opportunities for cross-sector work
- Facilitate shared learning to spur collaborative action at scale
Pillar three: Enable Action
The nature of our ambition means that stakeholders in countries need to be able to work together on different subjects. Ensuring we have multiple perspectives and strengths informing our actions is critical.
Building on the work of our coalitions, we will support
- The creation of issue-based action groups in countries and help them to generate proof of concepts
- The application of tools to address consumer preferences via social and cultural strategies
- Action groups to generate evidence and learnings
We will generate accessible public goods that meet high standards of evidence and are developed using transparent, inclusive process. We will work toward increasing the number of connections and social capital across sectors.
The DGA LeadGroup provides strategic support and in-kind contribution to deliver the DGA’s purpose and mission. This group consists of individuals from seven organizations in civil society (3), academia (2) and business alliances (2).
DGA membership will open in 2022 to institutions or organizations at global, regional or country level that seek to address topics that aligns with its mission. Members must adhere to UN Global Compact principles.