Breaking habits for the better: behavioral change towards more sustainable foods

In this project novel consumer research methods were investigated. These methods will enable the development of new, reformulated food products that will generate more healthy food habits.


Food choice is largely determined by habits and habits are difficult to break. We investigated how food habits arise and how they can be changed. With this knowledge, sustainable and healthy food products that consumers include in new food habits can be developed and marketed.

Key objectives:

Semi-real life testing:

A semi-real life environment (the WFBR-experience room) can be used as a research tool to measure food choice behaviour, providing results that are predictive for real life. Findings demonstrate that consumption situations simulated in this experience room, made consumers feel “immersed” in the situation. This was not only demonstrated through their subjective impressions but corroborated by physiological and behavioral measurements.

The consumption context is an essential part of food habits because it often triggers habitual choices. This implies that when launching new or reformulated products, it is advisable to also change the context in which foods are habitually consumed. This may constitute an effective way to break (unhealthy/unsustainable) food habits and turn them into healthy and sustainable habits.

Habits at home:

A separate breakfast study showed that habits can be changed but that these changes do not last. Our longitudinal study on habits during the COVID-19 lockdown showed that the restrictions resulted in some people changing towards a more and others towards a less healthy diet, and that these changes remained during the 20-wk period of the study. This implies that it is possible to induce sudden and lasting habit changes.

These insights need to be further explored and can be used to both help individual consumers to switch to healthier and sustainable diets, and governments to devise information and education campaigns to aid this process.