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Building food and nutrition security in Scotland

Building food and nutrition security in Scotland

  • Food Supply & Security
  • 2022-2027
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The supply and demand sides of Scottish food and drink are disconnected. Scotland produces food and drink products of the highest quality from diverse, internationally renowned, and often challenging land and marine environments that require careful management to balance production, biodiversity, and amenity. However, many Scottish food producers struggle to stay in business. 

Food consumption in Scotland tends to be associated with low intake of fruit and vegetables and with high rates of obesity and related ill health. These associations tend to be stronger for the economically disadvantaged. Economic disadvantage, marked by insufficient and insecure incomes, is also the main driver of food insecurity. The Family Resources Survey estimated that in 2019-20 eight per cent of Scottish households experienced food insecurity. Given that the average number of people per household in Scotland was 2.15 in 2019, it is likely that more than nine per cent, and possibly nearer 15 per cent, of the Scottish population has experienced some level of food insecurity in recent years.

Efforts are being made to bring Scottish producers and consumers together, such as through farmer’s markets. In parallel, networks have developed to supply large food banks which, in turn, provide smaller organisations and consumers with free or heavily discounted food and drink products. Such networks have expanded significantly since the 2000s and now cover much of Scotland. 

These networks remain under-studied in Scotland. However, research done elsewhere raises questions about the extent to which their charitable and often eligibility-dependent provision of food can address the economic conditions that they seek to alleviate and be compatible with the Scottish Government’s dignity principles. Working with people who have faced food insecurity is particularly important to build bridges across the divide between Scottish food production and consumption. While there is much quantitative evidence on overall consumption patterns, not enough is known about the attitudes of low-income consumers and the consumption habits of food-insecure people.


  • What are the barriers and potential mechanisms for addressing food insecurity in Scotland?


This project aims to inform policies to build food and nutrition security in Scotland. The research will review and generate new evidence and recommend new ways of providing dignified options for Scotland’s more vulnerable residents to consume healthy food and drink in ways that provide opportunities for Scotland’s food and drink sector to operate in an environmentally and financially sustainable manner.


Network, knowledge, and solutions development

We will explore the potential for bringing together economically marginal groups on the food and drink demand and supply sides to inform policies to build food and nutrition security in Scotland. Working with a steering group, containing policymakers and public bodies, food industry groups, third sector organisations and representatives of groups vulnerable to food insecurity, this research will:

  • Identify opportunities for Scottish producers and intermediaries to supply healthy, local and lower-environmental-impact produce to food-insecure and low-income Scottish residents.
  • Recommend ways to increase food-insecure Scottish residents’ physical and economic access to healthy food by identifying a preferred mechanism(s) to replace food banks as a primary response to food insecurity.


Food supply chain issues 

The project is exploring ways to increase physical and economic access to food by studying food supply chain issues that can exacerbate food insecurity and how and why new food supply networks develop and function. 


International efforts to eradicate the need for 'food aid'

We are reviewing studies and mechanisms that have sought to eradicate the need for 'food aid', at any stage in the supply chain, particularly those which:

  • Quantify their impact and value for money
  • Assess their relevance to Scottish industry and consumers
  • Are alternative to charitable provision (for example, co-operatives, community food initiatives, social supermarkets)


Identify gaps in Scotland's ‘food aid’ distribution

We are mapping and quantifying the ‘food aid’ distribution network in Scotland to better understand the ‘supply side’. We seek to identify key gaps (and swaps) that can be filled with healthier and lower-environmental-impact alternatives from Scottish producers.

Project Partners

The Rowett Institute
Scotland’s Rural College


2022 / 2023
2022 / 2023

An important part of this research is that it learns from, and is relevant to, people involved in developing responses to food insecurity. Thus, an early priority was to assemble a ‘steering group’ of potential research users to inform the design and conduct of the work. Our ‘steering group’ met in Glasgow (and online) in September 2022 and has since been invited to comment on the draft of our systematic literature review, on the list of attributes and models for replacing food banks, and on the draft report of the study described in the next paragraph. We also engage directly with policy makers through biannual meetings to discuss progress and ensure that our research remains relevant to their needs.


Our first piece of ‘fieldwork’ sought to build an improved understanding of how disruptions to the food supply chain can exacerbate food insecurity and to identify how adaptations, such as those made during the COVID-19 ‘lockdowns’, could inform what effective responses to future disruptions might look like. This involved conducting in-depth interviews with people working to provide emergency food and other assistance, in order to learn from their experience and expertise. 


Other work in Year 1 sought to develop our understanding of potential alternatives to the use of food banks in Scotland. A systematic review of efforts to eradicate the need for 'food aid' in high-income countries was conducted. Work has also been done, in conjunction with our ‘steering group’ and other stakeholders, to identify potential attributes and models to replace food banks. The findings from these two strands of work will feed into a survey to be conducted in Year 2, the findings from which will inform choice experiments that will be conducted in Year 3.


Case studies


Presentations, reports, posters.

  • Poster: "Understanding the Lived Experience of Food Insecurity amongst Adults in Scotland over time" presented at RESAS Science, Evidence and Policy Conference, Edinburgh, 18 May 2023.
  • Report: “Exploring the perceived impact of food system disruptions on food insecure people in Scotland and what effective responses might look like”.
  • Report: “Food system disruptions and strategies for delivering and maintaining food insecurity: academic and grey literature systematically reviewed”.

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