Thinking Beyond the Can: Mainstreaming UK-Grown Beans in Healthy Meals (BeanMeals)

Principal Investigator: Dr John Ingram, University of Oxford

BeanMeals: Thinking beyond the can – mainstreaming UK-grown beans in healthy meals

A key challenge for the UK food system is how to move towards healthier diets with lower environmental impact while also enhancing local and national enterprise. However, moderating the consumption of foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt (HFSS) requires coordinated action across the food system.

BeanMeals will directly address this by researching how to transform the food system based on systemic innovation in institutional catering and home-cooking by using:

  • healthier ingredients
  • new public procurement practices
  • more local products.

By starting with the meal and working backwards through the supply chain to the grower, we will base our research on a ‘fork-to-farm’ concept (a disruption of the productionist ‘farm-to-fork’ paradigm).

The research will feature meals made from two quick-cooking navy bean varieties (‘Capulet’ and ‘Godiva’), which the University of Warwick has recently developed for UK growing conditions. These beans are also suitable for a wide range of easily prepared institutional and home-cooked meals with lower fat, salt and sugar content. Capulet production is poised to scale with commercial partners, and increased UK production would reduce the amount of dry navy beans (used in tinned baked beans) imported from North America. This will lessen the environmental costs of shipping and open new local enterprise opportunities.

The environmental benefits of increased production and consumption of UK bean-based meals include:

  • reduced fertiliser demand on subsequent crops (beans are a nitrogen-fixing rotation crop), and hence reduced greenhouse gases related to its manufacture and reduced N2O emissions and runoff from agriculture
  • reduced water and energy use from more efficient processing (the beans cook quickly)
  • reduced transport emissions from having more local supply chains and lower importation of dry beans.

BeanMeals aims to develop and analyse systemic innovations (i.e. innovations that require collaboration between multiple actors) for reducing the consumption of products high in fat, sugar and salt in institutional and home-cooking by using UK-grown navy beans.

Our research will develop a new ‘fork-to-farm’ model for the systemic innovation of dietary change, which can be seen as ‘reverse engineering’. The model will start with the preparation and consumption of the meal, and work backwards though the ‘missing middle’ (i.e. the retailers/wholesalers, distributors, secondary and primary processors, and the associated logistics), to the grower.

By crossing research disciplines with innovation topics in its research design, our project will determine how best to bring about systemic innovation. It will also analyse the health, environment and enterprise impacts of the transformed system.

The project will be centred on Leicestershire and has been co-designed with a range of local partners co-convened by Leicestershire County Council (LCC), including:

  • Leicester City Council
  • Food for Life
  • the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP).

These partners all see the possibilities for enhanced outcomes for local health, environment and enterprise. The potential benefits at the UK-level have been identified by organisations with a national remit, including Defra, FSA, NFU, WWF and CIWF.

See their project website here.