The problem

Takeaway food is typically high in energy, fat and salt and consumption is associated with body weight and weight gain. Many neighbourhoods have a high density of takeaway outlets, especially in more deprived neighbourhoods, and neighbourhoods with more takeaways amplify social inequalities in unhealthy eating and obesity.

Common public health responses to the ‘problem’ of takeaways are to support existing outlets to improve the nutritional quality of their offering, for example through healthier frying techniques, or to reduce the proliferation of outlets through planning restrictions on new outlets.

There have been some attempts to develop ‘healthier’ takeaways but these are often more expensive.

The intervention

A social enterprise in Balsall Health, Birmingham aims to provide healthy vegetarian food made from surplus.

A recent grant of £75,000 from Severn Trent enabled the company to expand their kitchen facilities, open an attached store front café, and begin operating as a takeaway in June 2023. This adds to an existing catering business for weddings and other large events, enabling subsidising of free meals for city centre distribution. The company aspires to merge a standard full price offer with ‘pay it forward’ (i.e. customers paying full price can contribute to low cost meals for others), and ‘pay what you can’ options.

In December 2023 they began selling via a fast food delivery app. Whilst the takeaway is currently a small part of the company’s business (5-10 customers/day), they have recently been awarded a small grant to support further marketing and aspire to around 100 customers a day.

The research

Overarching research question

Does this takeaway offer a healthy, sustainable, affordable and economically viable takeaway? If so, how?

Secondary research questions (and outcomes)

  • How ‘healthy’ is the food that the takeaway provides? (Proportion of menu items >600kcal/portion; proportion of menu items with Nutrient Profile Model >4.)
  • What is the potential impact of the takeaway on the diets of customers? (Sales weighted healthiness of menu items; self-report frequency of use among customers; self-report alternative food if not among takeaway customers.)
  • How sustainable is the food provided? (Proportion of food served sourced from surplus suppliers.)
  • What are the business practices that allow the takeaway to be economically viable? (What are the operating costs, how much revenue does it raise, what cross-subsidies operate across other company revenue streams?)
  • What is the potential impact of the takeaway on the food security of its customers? (Socio-demographic profile of customers purchasing through different models; self-report alternative food if not among customers.)
  • What is the takeaway’s neighbourhood food environment? (Number and type of other food outlets within 400m.)
  • Has the neighbourhood food environment around the takeaway changed since it opened? (Self-report of local residents.)

We plan to conduct intercept surveys with around 100 customers, and analyse sales, recipe and other economic data over 12 months. We will explore neighbourhood date through desk-based analysis and neighbourhood visits.

Theory of Change

See the image below. We hypothesise that the takeaway will target the nodes of the out of home causal loop diagram highlighted in red. The inputs into these nodes are presented to the left and the outcomes to the right, progressing from short-term to long-term.

Healthy Takeaway Theory of Change – click to enlarge

Proposed outputs 

Single peer reviewed paper and evaluation feedback to the company.

Research team