M&S launches Sparking Change National Challenge with tips on cooking from scratch, plant-based protein and cutting food waste

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Today (Monday 3rd January), M&S is launching its Sparking Change National Challenge, inviting its 14 million Sparks customers to try a lower carbon diet, feel healthier and potentially save money – all whilst benefiting the planet.  

During the two-month Challenge, customers will have access to delicious recipes, practical tips and a Sparks Live cook-along event hosted by M&S chef, Chris Baber, alongside a surprise celebrity guest. Available through Sparks, M&S’s loyalty reward scheme, participants will be supported with a range of resources designed to help them make delicious, and more sustainable meals from scratch.

In January, M&S will be providing ideas around the best ways to incorporate more protein from plants into your diet with simple swaps and flavour hacks. Sparks customers will receive discounts on M&S’ award-winning meat-free Plant Kitchen range every Monday during the month, as M&S joins forces with Meat Free Monday to encourage families to go plant-based for one day a week.

February will focus on More Taste, Less Waste, enabling customers to cook delicious healthy meals the whole family will love whilst reducing food waste. Customers will also benefit from expert tips on batch cooking, storing food to make it last longer and how to best use leftovers – helping them to save upwards of £20 on their weekly shop in the process.

The most recent M&S Family Matters Report highlights that the environment is a growing concern for two-thirds of families in the UK, whilst almost half believe that we should be eating less meat and well over a third say they’ve already made changes to the food they buy to take account of climate change.

To respond to customers’ growing sustainability concerns, M&S partnered with award-winning environmental charity, Hubbub, to create a nine-week behaviour change pilot involving almost 100 customer and colleague families from across the country.

Grounded in behaviour change theory, the Sparking Change pilot focused on four areas – protein from plants, cutting food waste, cooking from scratch and sustainable living beyond the kitchen. All participants received expert tips, easy to follow recipes and the opportunity to join live cook-alongs with chefs for extra inspiration, as well as a session with a nutritionist. A private digital community group was also created for the sharing of recipes and tips.

After three months, participants reported lasting impacts, with:

  • 90% eating less meat and wasting less food
  • 76% of participants’ children more likely to get involved with cooking
  • 73% cooking from scratch more often and 75% eating more seasonal produce
  • 70% feeling healthier
  • 39% saving money (on average £22 per week)
  • 34% more likely to buy plant-based meat alternatives

Those who took part in the trial also reported spending more time together as a family, not only eating but planning and cooking together. In addition, many enjoyed the experience of being more adventurous with recipes, the benefits of simple, healthier product swaps and the cost savings of eating more plants and wasting less.

Beverly Agbamu, Sparking Change participant from Surrey, said: “I’ve always loved entertaining but with the pandemic and a hectic lifestyle with two children I’d lost interest in cooking. Sparking Change helped reignite my love for cooking from scratch and I’m still using all the tips I learnt from the challenge. I’ve halved my food waste by freezing more food, which before I would have thrown out, and batch cooking is helping me save more money. Now I’m always looking for ways to use leftovers and trying to be more sustainable where I can.”

To meet the growing demand for meat alternatives, and also support customers exploring plant-based eating this Veganuary, M&S is expanding its popular Plant Kitchen range with some delicious new additions all benchmarked for taste against their meaty counterparts. New products include Plant Kitchen Veggie Balls, Veggie Mince, Plant Kitchen VLT and Plant Kitchen Lasagne.

Sophia Linn, Nutritionist at M&S, commented: “Eating more sustainably needn’t be complicated or expensive – there are simple steps we can all take to reduce our impact on the planet. Our Sparking Change Challenge is designed to help customers make small changes that can easily be incorporated into their day to day lives and make it stick for the long term.

We want to help our customers explore and enjoy more sustainable ways of living and our Plant Kitchen range means any swaps customers do make aren’t compromising on quality, affordability or taste.”

Customers told M&S that whilst they would like to do more to protect the future of the planet, climate action can often feel overwhelming.  The Sparking Change Challenge makes sustainable living simple and fun, offering a flexible approach that can be tailored to individual family needs with no sign-up or big commitment required, just the appetite to take part. Below are some top tips on reducing food waste from M&S’ Sophia Linn for those joining in.

Sophia’s top tips for reducing food waste:

  • Plan like a pro – Only buy what you need by getting the family involved. Choose a meal each for the week and keep the occasional day free for leftovers or eating out as a family.
  • Save yourself time – If Monday to Friday is more of a juggle, try setting aside some time on a weekend to batch cook a couple of your favourite meals from scratch. If you’re tight on time, cooking a larger serving of your regular weekend meals to portion off for the freezer can be a real mid-week timesaver.
  • Befriend your freezer – Beating eggs and cutting up carrots before popping in the freezer is a simple way to make them last longer. You can always freeze bread and unopened cartons of milk and remember frozen fruit counts towards one of your five a day.
  • Love your leftovers – Cool any leftovers as soon as you can by storing them in the fridge or freezer. If in the fridge, you can eat within two days (one day for rice), just remember to reheat until piping hot.
  • Get creative – Struggling tofinish your Sunday roast? Create a bubble and squeak brunch from the vegetables and meat or add them to a curry. If you’ve got leftover pasta, why not create a mac and cheese for the next night. And if your fruit is slightly past its best, add it to a homemade crumble.

Mark Breen, senior creative partner at Hubbub, said: “The lasting impact for families who have already taken part in Sparking Change has been incredible. Reducing food waste and eating less meat and more plant-based foods are two of the simplest ways we can all do our bit to help the environment.

The Sparking Change pilot showed that with inspiration and support, making small but long-term changes becomes a lot easier. We look forward to seeing the impact that taking Sparking Change to all M&S’ Sparks customers will have.”

M&S recently reset Plan A, its sustainability programme, to have an unrelenting focus on becoming a fully net zero business by 2040. The Sparking Change research pilot and National Challenge is part of the retailer’s ongoing commitment to innovate and invest in products and services that help customers enjoy lower carbon lives.