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Plant-based food at PwC

Setting the scene

Global warming is changing the climate and causing extreme weather events, harming both people and economies. In October 2018, the IPCC warned that we have less than twelve years to avoid the catastrophic effects of runaway climate change, and in June 2019 the UK government responded by setting a legally-binding target of net zero emissions by 2050, accelerating the UK’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions.

The volume of meat in the western diet is a significant contributor to climate change because the production of meat and dairy has a high carbon (and water) footprint. The EAT Lancet report, released in January 2019, stated that planetary health could be transformed if we all adopted a more plant-focused diet. The UK Committee on Climate Change recognises this and recommends policy to influence dietary choices towards more plant-based food as one way to help achieve net zero emissions.

Meanwhile, people in the UK are not eating the seven portions of vegetables and fruit a day that medical experts recommend, contributing to a rising epidemic of obesity and associated illnesses. Indeed, analysis by the Food Foundation shows that the typical grocery basket only includes one third of the spend on vegetables needed to form a healthy diet, whilst Public Health England reports that the NHS spend £6bn per year supporting people with obesity-related diseases.

That’s why, in 2017, the Food Foundation and Worldwide Wildlife Fund launched an initiative to get UK citizens to eat better. Called 'Peas Please', this campaign engaged organisations across all sectors, asking them to commit to making it easier for everyone to eat more vegetables.

What we did

I'm taking part in the Veganuary Workplace Challenge #VeganuaryWorkplaceChallenge

At PwC, we joined the campaign together with our catering service provider, BaxterStorey, committing to increase spend on vegetables sold in our in-office Social Co. restaurants from 15% to 20% within the first year, and 25% by 2020.

In the first year, we focused on building awareness and interest. We promoted delicious, healthy, vegetarian or vegan ‘hero’ dishes in a campaign called “Celebrate the seasons”. We shared recipe cards so people could replicate the meals at home, and we ran lunchtime games for our people to improve their understanding of the connection between plant-based diets and environmental issues.

In the second and third years, we concentrated on more directly encouraging our people to choose more plant-based options. We ran two big campaigns, both centred around Veganuary, supported by firm-wide communications and an active social media presence. In 2019, we invited people to “Be vegan curious” while in 2020 our messaging was bolder and urged people to “Join the Veganuary movement”.

In both cases, we encouraged our employees to sign up to our Veganuary Workplace Challenge, providing information, tips and offers around plant-based eating. We handed out lanyards which people could use to get 10% off dedicated vegan meals in our restaurants during Veganuary, and we established an informal vegan and vegetarian network where people could connect with like-minded colleagues and share their passion for plant-based food.

Run in several sites across the UK, the Peas Please campaign was initially most popular in London, in line with overall UK trends, although we also saw a good uptake in our regional offices, especially in Birmingham following the opening of an exciting new employee restaurant which offered an extensive range of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Our Veganuary campaigns served to ignite, and subsequently boost, our people’s interest in plant-based diets. But beyond Veganuary, our caterers transformed the everyday offering, including:

  • Training chefs to rethink recipes to include more vegetables
  • Show-casing meat-free options on menus
  • Signposting plant-based options well, making them front and centre
  • Doubling up, providing plant-based equivalents for popular dishes, allowing easy switches
  • Labelling vegan and vegetarian dishes clearly and consistently
  • Offering incentives, during promotional periods, to encourage people to try plant based meals
  • Creating plant-based food ‘theatre’, with pop up stands to generate interest

In 2020, the pandemic saw our people working from home for several months, but we remained committed to the overarching goal of supporting our people to adopt healthier and more environmentally friendly diets. We focused on providing inspiration and practical tips for cooking plant-based dishes, reducing food waste and how to grow veg at home as part of a new Sustainable Living at Home programme. And as our people started to return to work, we ensured that plant-based options remained front and centre as part of catering innovations including Click and Collect, Click and Deliver (to your desk) and on-floor, ‘grab and go’ self-scan Micro Markets.

Making a difference

By February 2020, the last month in which we measured consumption as part of the three-year Peas Please programme, just before our offices closed due to Covid-19, we achieved our target, increasing the percentage of spend on vegetables to 25%, up from 15% in 2017. We also achieved an 82% increase in vegetable portions compared to main meals sold over the same time period. Read the latest Peas Please campaign results in the Food Foundation's 2020 Peas Please Progress Report. 

As our video shows, the plant-based food campaign has been incredibly popular with our people, who have welcomed the improvement in the quality and choice of healthy meals, and the opportunity to take action in line with their values - whether health-related, environmental, or cultural.

We saw a real shift in attitudes towards plant-based food over the three year programme. A 2020 survey of our people showed that the number who identified as meat-loving reduced by 76%, those who identified as vegan or vegetarian increased 35%, and flexitarians, who previously made up nearly half of our people, increased by 28%. The campaigns also sparked conversation and debate amongst our diverse workforce as they found a ‘voice’ on a topic that matters to them.

We’re confident we’ve reduced our environmental footprint, too, given that the carbon emissions associated with vegetables is roughly 90% less than an equivalent weight of beef, 80% less than cheese and 70% less than chicken, for instance[1]. And it’s a similar picture for water consumption (80%, 70% and 10%, respectively according to the Water Footprint Network).

In recent months, Covid-19 has caused many people to rethink their relationship with food, as lockdown brought food security worries to the fore and stimulated an enthusiasm for home cooking and growing your own veg. We expect this will encourage even more people to put plants at the heart of their diets in the future.

As a result of our success during the Peas Please initiative, and as part of the PwC worldwide science-based Net Zero by 2030 commitment, we will continue to embed plant-based food into all our catering propositions so that eating vegetables becomes a daily habit for even more of our people - enhancing their wellbeing and accelerating the transition to a climate-friendly and nature positive economy.

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[1] Source: Clune et al., “Systematic review of greenhouse gas emissions for different fresh food categories”, 2017 – LCA database, by country

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Bridget Jackson

Bridget Jackson

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC United Kingdom

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