Shift’s healthier fast food adventure

The story so far…

Shift has been working to increase healthier food habits over the last six years. Here we collate our research findings and comment pieces as well as the approaches and prototypes we have created over the years.

Childhood obesity: understanding the challenge (2012)

Are we overweight by default?

Strong underlying forces in mainstream culture are conspiring to make unhealthy weight gain almost inevitable. Unhealthy food that is quick, cheap, tasty and always within arm’s reach is exacerbating the problem.

Read our blog exploring the contributing factors

Chicken Shops, youth fuel?

Takeaway consumption and prevalence of restaurants serving this food are correlated with unhealthy weight gain.  All secondary schools are within 500m of at least one takeaway outlet and the fried chicken market is now worth £15bn-£20bn.

Explore our research into the relationship between chicken shops and childhood obesity

View our Infographic into the scale and impact of chicken shops


The takeaway market is affecting our health, and little has been done to understand this sector and work with it to lessen the impact on health.

DIY Healthy Alternatives (2013 – 2015)

Is there a healthier alternative to fried chicken – Box Chicken?

Can you serve chicken meals that are healthier and popular yet still run a financially sustainable business? “Yes” but we learnt that in a saturated market, it’s difficult and expensive to establish a completely new brand.

Read our evaluation on Box Chicken’s successes and challenges

How can you develop the market for Healthier Fast Food?

We decided to support a Healthy Fast Food network of existing mobile food vendors. We learnt that local councils, pitch location, menu and price point are key for the success of mobile food outlets. There is lots that needs to be just right for success.

Read what we learnt from running a network of healthy fast food outlets


Even if the Healthy Fast Food network in London had been wonderfully successful, we would have needed over 250 outlets to possess a 3% market share. But what about the other 97% of the market?

The levers for large scale change (2015 – 2017)

What do you need?

With Public Health teams we identified 3 requirements: a way to measure the healthiness of restaurants to target action and track progress, understanding what might motivate owners to change, and what changes would make a difference.

What might a healthscore look like?

We mapped the fast food environment in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Birmingham by accessing planning data, walking the streets, gathering menus and measuring the nutritional profile of meals. It became clear that takeaway outlets are dominating our high streets.

Key findings about Hackney’s fast food environment here

What makes restaurant owners tick?

We learnt that outlets prioritise keeping their ​regular ​customers ​happy and ​minimising ​costs. Competitive pressure means there will be limited, peripheral engagement with health. Growing sales healthily is a conversation they want to be part of.

Read more about what makes fast food outlet owners tick

How to grow sales healthily (by stealth)?

Our first outlet intervention tests went live in Tower Hamlets. We repositioned new and existing menu items, applied some behavioural nudges, and tested alternative packaging.

Find out about the effectiveness of stealthy healthy changes here


Measuring, motivating and modifying was able to influence consumer purchase habits, but not in scalable way. The focus of sales growth for restaurant owners and the opportunity for influence at scale is in the online takeaway market.

The Shift to Everyday Takeaway (2017 – 2018)

What’s happening online?

If online is the primary source of growth, how might we influence this space to improve the healthiness of takeaway food? In a collaboration with JustEat we have been sharing our respective knowledge to understand this market and its potential points of leverage.

How to design a systemic approach to tackling childhood obesity?

In partnership with Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, we conducted ethnographic research to explore the environmental context for eating and physical activity in families across Lambeth and Southwark.

Watch our insights video and read our report summarising our research into how the environment influences families’ food behaviours in Lambeth and Southwark.


Takeaway and hot delivered food is increasingly an everyday meal source for families, yet the dishes were meant as occasional treats. How can we accelerate the market’s adaptation to provide ‘better everyday takeaway’?

Toward “Better” Everyday Takeaways. (2018- onwards)

Asking ourselves how might we populate the online market with ‘everyday’ takeaway that’s just as convenient and affordable, but better for you, we have developed Family Feeds – an alternative, online-only, takeaway service that delivers proper family meals that are delicious, good for you and loved by kids. After an online test with around 130,000 parents to validate the proposition, we are running a 11 week full service prototype in Birmingham to test for market demand.