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Winner’s insight into Masters Dissertation Scheme

Disa Ramadhina

Winner’s insight into the Masters Dissertation Scheme

Disa Ramadhina, winner of the Best Dissertation Award 2021, shares her experiences and insights about participating in the CDRC Masters Dissertation Scheme.

What attracted you to working on a project in partnership with the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC?)?

Prior to studying the MSc Business Analytics program at UCL, I studied Psychology at King’s College London, so I’ve always been interested in the topic of consumer behaviour. Therefore, applying to a project in partnership with the CDRC was a natural next step.

I came across the CDRC – a centre which leads engagement between industry and academia – through the MSc Business Analytics Program Director, David Alderton. I was particularly drawn to the project topic by Entain. I was unfamiliar with the company at first, until I realised they owned the big-betting brands Ladbrokes and Coral. Having been in London for four years, I’ve definitely come across their betting shops while walking around the city.

Entain logo

Ultimately, the opportunity to analyse consumer behaviour and knowing that Entain is a leading company within the gaming and sports-betting industry was what motivated me to apply to their project in partnership with the CDRC.

What problem or need was investigated through the student consulting project?

The pandemic-driven changes in consumer behaviour led to the hypothesis that, during lockdown, a lot of Entain’s new online customers have a retail background – meaning that they are retail customers who may have migrated online due to retail shop closures in the UK.

With methods of classification, we can predict whether an online customer has a retail background; and we found demographical and behavioural differences between groups of online customers with and without a retail background. While the findings of the project can be turned into strategic customer segmentation to generate higher revenue, it can also be used to analyse the differences in manifestations of problem gambling between the customer groups to create a more sustainable customer base. More on the project is available in my abstract.

How do you think the skills that you learned on the MSc Business Analytics program helped you support Entain?

The project was dependent on the use of programming tools which I had no prior knowledge in before the course. Particularly, the modules Statistical Foundations of Business Analytics, Marketing Analytics, Programming and Predictive Analytics helped me support Entain throughout the project as it taught me to utilise R and Python to analyse data, and to train machine learning models. Not only that, but the way the course organisers dealt with the pandemic and structured the online learning taught me soft skills which helped me adjust to the ways of online working. This was particularly useful while conducting the project during the pandemic, and with the fact that the Entain team was based in Gibraltar while I was based in London.

Can you tell us a little about winning the best dissertation award?

After completing the project, I was notified by the CDRC that I was shortlisted for the 2021 cohort’s top three dissertations. I was invited to present my project alongside other shortlisted candidates, which was followed by a virtual prizegiving ceremony. Winning the best dissertation award was very rewarding, and I would like to share two lessons that I have learned:

1. Projects come in different shapes and forms

Having the opportunity to watch other candidates’ presentations of their projects gave me insights into what other students worked on for months, which were completely different to my project. This showed me that dissertation projects encompass a broad range of topics, which made me appreciate the scale at which analytics could be applied into.

2. The importance of communication skills

I learned that having communication skills is critical in dissertation projects. I thought, how do I present my results such that they are meaningful to the audience? Whether it be academics or business’ stakeholders, no matter how good the analyses are or how complex the methodology is, the project must be communicated well for others to appreciate it as much as you do.

When did you graduate and what have you been doing since you graduated?

I graduated from MSc Business Analytics in December 2021. Since then, I have been working as a Data Analyst at Entain in their Compliance/Safer Gambling Analytics Department. Within the role, I am responsible for managing end-to-end analytics projects relating to the management of customer journeys to promote safer gambling. The projects start with data extraction and analysis through SQL, R and Python, and end in translating the findings into actionable insights presented through PowerPoint or visualized through Tableau dashboards. 

Disa Ramadhina

I would like to give special thanks to the Entain Gaming team – Piotr Smolinski, Joana Georgieva, and William Collins – for guidance and mentorship throughout the project; to the CDRC for the opportunity to work on the Masters’ Dissertation Scheme; and to David Alderton for the support from UCL as a Program Director and Personal Tutor.

Fruit and Veg Findings – IGD behavioural insights report follow-up

Fruit and Veg Findings – IGD behavioural insights report follow-up

November 2020 brought a series of sustainability goals to the forefront with COP26, and linked initiatives such as the Earthshot Prize, rightly monopolising media attention. Tackling climate change was not only of great importance to policy makers in Glasgow, but also to companies and consumers around the world.

Our global food system is the second biggest contributor to climate change [1]. Retailers and manufacturers in the UK food industry are responding to this and are working hard to be a driving force of change. IGD’s Healthy and Sustainable Diets Project Group and WWF’s recent Retailers’ Commitment for Nature are examples of the brilliant collaboration happening in the sector to reduce the toll that our weekly food shops have on the environment.

This November also saw the release of the Institute of Grocery Distribution’s (IGD) Behavioural Insights Report. The report shares the first findings from our ongoing research, in partnership with IGD and their Healthy and Sustainable Diets Project Group, where we look at how healthy choices and sustainable choices can be one and the same.

Can food retailers and manufacturers make the shift towards a healthy and sustainable diet easy, accessible and appealing to consumers at the point they are purchasing and planning their food for the week?

To investigate this, interventions have been co-designed by IGD, members of IGD’s Healthy and Sustainable Diets Project Group and the University of Leeds, to trial one or several of the behavioural levers below.

A 4-week national price reduction trial to encourage greater fruit and veg, tested year on year

The first exciting trial we have been studying is Sainsbury’s ‘60p Fruit and Veg’ campaign.

Looking to increase the amount and variety of fruit and vegetable products in shoppers’ baskets, Sainsbury’s ran a promotional intervention for four weeks in both January 2020 and January 2021. These promotions reduced the price of selected fruit and vegetables to 60p in store and online.

Signposting and placement were used alongside incentivisation to draw attention to the offer. Our research aimed to determine whether this multi-levered approach led people to make healthier and more sustainable choices, and monitor whether any change was sustained in the nine months following the trial.

The trial was varied each year in the selection of fruit and vegetables chosen for the offer: thirteen products were on offer in 2020 and seven in 2021. Furthermore, the first trial in 2020 was outside of national lockdowns, whereas the second trial, in 2021, occurred during one.

Studying 23.4 million baskets

For our initial findings, we analysed national unit sales data for 23.4 million baskets that contained a promoted fruit or vegetable item between January 2019 and March 2021. Following the sales over this period allowed us to observe purchasing trends and establish a comparative January 2019 baseline for each product.

Our findings

Our analysis is presented in terms of portions, reminding us of the impact our consumer choices have in terms of our plate. To calculate this, each unit sold was translated into portions as defined by product weight, where one portion of fruit or vegetables is equivalent to 80g [2].

An impactful intervention year on year

Our first finding was pleasing, yet slightly expected: when on offer, sales increased for the promoted items.

Promoting fruit and veg increased sales by over two million portions, compared to the control year

Each year we saw an uplift in sales during the promotional period, well above the January 2019 baseline for the selected products. In total, 2.8 million more portions of promoted fruit and vegetables were sold in 2020 during the four weeks of the promotion than the previous year, across 101 stores which ran the intervention in both years. Similarly, 2.1 million more portions were sold during the 2021 promotion than in the same period in 2019, for the 101 stores.

Less impact during the national lockdown

Consumers engaged with the promotion each year, purchasing promoted products well above their 2019 levels. While both years of the promotion were successful, the second year saw slightly less impact than the first. Sales of the promoted items increased from baseline by 78% (2.8 million portions) in 2020 and by 56% (2.1 million portions) in 2021.

The 2021 trial took place during a national lockdown, when food shopping became a more pragmatic procedure. Placement and signposting were therefore probably not as strong at directing shoppers’ attention and influencing their basket.

Prior to starting our analysis, we anticipated the data may reflect effects of the pandemic alongside the effects of the trial. It is important to keep this context in mind when interpreting the data. The lower portions sold in the second year may be partly attributed to the different food landscape, however, we also have to bear in mind the differing items on promotion.

Below you can see a timeline of average portions sold per store from 2019-2021, across the 101 stores (noting it only considers items offered in the promotion). The figure illustrates seasonal shifts in consumer behaviour, essential to developing a holistic understanding of the trial’s impact.

Weekly plot of mean portions sold per store for Fruit or Vegetable items offered in the promotion. Unit Sales data was provided by Sainsbury’s. Calculated across the restricted subset of 101 stores which ran the 60p Fruit and Vegetable promotion in both years.

Looking at the highlighted intervention periods, we observed a sales spike in both January 2020 and January 2021 during the promotion, emphasising those 2+million additional portions sold in each year.

Impactful, but not sustained

The timeline above plots weekly sales data. Curiously, the high level of engagement drops off in the final week of each trial. This decline may reflect people’s finances prior to payday, or may suggest that using Placement and Signposting only interrupts behaviour for a short time before going unnoticed by shoppers [3].

Some products were more appealing than others

Higher-value items were most popular, such as kale, kiwi fruit, pineapple and mango. Noticeably, these items also require minimal preparation and mostly encompassed exotic fruits. In contrast, swedes, radishes and red grapefruits were less popular in the promotion.

January – a popular month for fruits and vegetables

Important questions to understand, with the goal of encouraging people to embrace healthier and more sustainable diets, are: were customers adding items to their basket to up their fruit and vegetable content overall? Was this a shift within their usual purchasing habits?

For the last two years, around four million more units of fruit and vegetables were sold in January than the following February. Promoted items made up 9% of produce purchases during the four-week intervention period in January 2020 (dropping down to 5% in the four weeks that followed), and 8% during the four-week intervention period in January 2021 (dropping down to 6% in the four weeks that followed).

These figures indicate that the promoted items contributed to the high fruit and vegetable sales in January, but did not fully account for the uplift. There are many reasons why people may have picked up more fruit and vegetables in January, such as the growing Veganuary movement or a healthy eating New Year’s resolution. So, how do we determine the promotion’s success apart from a January health kick? Studying one year pre-intervention allowed us to establish baseline sales for the selected products. The 2+million portions sold above baseline indicates that the sales spike in January 2020 and 2021 can be largely attributed to the promotion.

Next stages

So, are promotional interventions successful? Sainsbury’s 60p Fruit and Vegetable promotion was extremely successful initially, causing a short-term sales uplift for items on offer.  However, we saw this was not sustained as sales declined in the fourth week.

Our next step is then to look across people’s baskets and see what other items they were purchasing. Was their basket closer to the Eatwell Guide (the model diet we use as a metric to measure success) when engaging with the promotion?

There are many exciting developments in the wider work ahead for this partnership. More trials are underway, watch this space!

About the Author: Alexandra Dalton currently works as a Data Scientist at the Consumer Data Research Centre following her data science internship at the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA). Alex and a team of researchers from the University of Leeds have worked in collaboration with IGD, major retailers and UK manufacturers to evaluate strategies to promote healthier and more sustainable dietary choices. She is interested by consumer data insights in the intersectional field of sustainability, nutrition and lifestyle analytics.

[1] National Food Strategy (2021). The National Food Strategy: The Plan. [Accessed online via: https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/ ]

[2] NHS (2018). 5 A Day: what counts? [Accessed online via: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/ ].

[3] IGD (2020) Healthy, Sustainable Diets: Driving Change [Accessed online via: https://www.igd.com/articles/ ].

Networking and Partnership Building: An intern’s perspective

Two jigsaw pieces being held close together over green grass

Networking and Partnership Building: An intern’s perspective


I want my work to have an impact and I believe that harnessing the increasingly available abundance of data is one way of ensuring this. LIDA presents the opportunity to combine my sociological and quantitative/computational skills, and I feel grateful that my internship project with the CDRC at LIDA synchronizes my expectations perfectly.

I work on the OpenInfra project, exploring the potential of (crowd-sourced) open-access data (OpenStreetMap) in planning active travel infrastructure. Open data could lead to a more accessible and inclusive decision-making process by including citizens in the process of building the active travel infrastructure and network they want to use every day. However, the data is “messy”, constantly updated but still lacking completeness. It is open but not easy to access or use, and although it might have mapping protocols in place, this does not mean that there are no errors (my all-time favourite is the width value of –1).

To help reduce the scope of the problem, I decided to focus on accessible pedestrian infrastructure. One of the first things I did was search for relevant policy documents. The Inclusive Mobility guide was released over 10 years ago (it has now been recently updated), so I suspected that it might not contain the most up-to-date recommendations. I thought that familiarity with current qualitative research on accessible pedestrian infrastructure might identify what essential information on street elements might not be, as of now, representable in OpenStreetMap.

As I was searching for qualitative research on my subject, I discovered an on-going project at the University of Leeds that has various synergies with my project, so I contacted them. This was the first time I had ever reached out to someone to explore how two projects might collaborate together, so it meant stepping out of my comfort zone. Whilst not easy, it is proving to be very rewarding. Here, I will share some lessons learnt that, I believe, gave ground to successful networking and partnership building.

Seeking Partnership

Before I discuss building partnerships with external stakeholders, I want to highlight that the most important partnership to build is with your project team. Mutual trust and support between you and your supervisors are integral to advancing any project.

Writing that first email

In my case, I sought partnership to get a better grasp of my project and data needed for accessible pedestrian infrastructure planning. A clear idea of “why” gives purpose for reaching out. For me, it was helpful to think about the initial email as a cover letter. The following questions guided my email:

  • Introduce yourself: who are you? Why are you qualified to contact them?
  • The why: why are you contacting them (e.g. expertise in a domain, methods)? How did you find out about them?
  • Benefits: what are the potential benefits of them partnering with you?
  • Call to action: what do I want to achieve as a result of this email (e.g. organize a meeting)?

In my case, the trickiest part was to identify why they would be interested in meeting me. I approached this by reading their project website and an academic paper their team had published, trying to understand the project and agenda/factors that drove them as a team. I found that raising awareness of the struggles faced by people with disabilities is integral to their project. We also want to highlight the importance of mapping data relevant for accessible pedestrian infrastructure, so in my email I noted this overlap. I was careful not to overpromise or come across as too certain of their interest at this stage.

Initiating a partnership for the first time can be challenging. It took more than two weeks for me to sit down and write that email, not because of a busy schedule, but because I was worried about not receiving a reply. The key factor in overcoming this was acknowledging it and recognizing that it goes hand-in-hand with my imposter syndrome. Being honest with myself helped to put everything into perspective: nothing but time would be lost if I sent an email, but I would gain self-confidence and, potentially, a meeting.  I was also aware of my project team being positive about me contacting them, therefore trusting me enough to enable me to give a personal touch to the project. These little realizations, or rather self-reminders, were very reassuring and empowering, leading to my first successful initiation of partnership building.

Scheduling and running the meeting

When I got a positive reply from them, I was over the moon – proud of myself for having taken that first step! Yet, I also knew that the next step was the meeting scheduling. Retrospectively, I can say that scheduling requires active listening.  For example, there was a person in their team who currently lives in another time zone, hence I was asked to schedule meetings after 4PM GMT.  Little pieces of information like this might pave the way for a successful meeting before it even starts!

Leading a meeting was an unknown field for me. I had a myriad of questions ranging from chairing the first meeting to making sure that the meeting allowed for discussion of both projects in parity, as well as the potential bridges between them. Here, I took advantage of the fantastic LIDA community and asked my personal buddy to share her experience. I got an invaluable piece of advice – do not be afraid to communicate your aspirations and hopes for the meeting up-front. Indeed, from the first email enquiry, this collaboration was about communication and testing the ground, so the meeting did not have to be “perfect” to be productive. This realization took the pressure off my shoulders.

The meeting went really well: it reassured me that our project is timely and needed and, more importantly, it exposed me to new interdisciplinary ideas and applications of OpenStreetMap data. For example, we discussed the potential of addressing the qualitative-quantitative divide (often thought of as binaries), organizing walk-alongs and mapathons, and a question on using OpenStreetMap data for 3D modelling. Not all of these ideas may be realised, but the process of engagement and listening have broadened my perspective on OpenStreetMap and its applicability to qualitative research. Finally, it made me feel that I am working towards doing what I set out to do: combining my sociological and computational skills for social good.

Final thoughts

The entire experience of reaching out has not been just about networking and partnership building per se, but also stepping out of my comfort zone to suggest (and realise) ideas to my project team. It can be challenging to do if you (as I was) are assigned a project that is far from your field of expertise. Here, again, I want to reiterate the importance of building collaborative working with your project team – it takes time, trust, and willingness to communicate honestly, especially about fears and worries. Indeed, imposter syndrome can hinder my motivation more often than I would like, but moving one step at a time and, most importantly, collecting and appreciating those steps have been invaluable, especially in the face of stakeholder meetings.

The experience of networking and partnership building has strengthened the central position of communication in a (data science) project. Not only does it help to promote or disseminate its outputs, but also to shape one’s own perspective towards the project itself. For me, listening emerged as a key tool of effective communication, that perhaps needs to be given more credit in data science if the project is to have a real-life impact.

Author: LIDA Data Scientist Intern, Greta Timaite. Greta has a BA in Sociology and an MSc in Big Data and Digital Futures from Warwick University.

COVID-19 Vaccination Centre Accessibility

Yellow COVID-19 vaccination centre road sign

COVID-19 Vaccination Centre Accessibility

The need to rapidly rollout COVID-19 vaccinations in England brought issues of geographical accessibility to the fore. Ambitious targets to double-vaccinate every eligible member of the adult population, within a matter of months, presented considerable challenges. The Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘UK COVID-19 Vaccines Delivery Plan’ set ambitious targets for all households to be within 10 miles of their nearest vaccination site. Figures published periodically by the NHS (available here) suggested that almost 100% of households met this target, yet media reports frequently suggested that thousands of households faced challenges in accessing vaccination sites due to impracticably long journeys or lack of available public transport, especially in many rural areas.

Recently published CDRC research, carried out in conjunction with commercial partner HERE Technologies uncovered inequity in vaccination site accessibility, highlighting inequalities that are hidden by NHS-reported assessments of vaccination site coverage.  Our analysis reveals that over 90,000 households – all of which are inferred to lack access to public transport – face modelled journey times in excess of 1 hour to reach a vaccination site, with regional and urban-rural inequity evident (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Average journey times to closest 5 vaccination sites by all modes of transport.

Whilst mass-vaccination centres – some capable of vaccinating thousands of individuals in a day – offered operational efficiencies and economies of scale, these were largely confined to urban areas. Our research highlights the importance of local provision of COVID-19 vaccinations via consortia of GP-practices, and makes recommendations to support the continued delivery of booster jabs and other mass-vaccination programmes.

These analysis were only possible given the availability of open data from NHS England, coupled with comprehensive routing data from HERE Technologies. These data permitted calculation of validated travel times between residential neighbourhoods and vaccination sites, accounting for mode of transport and time of the day. The CDRC is uniquely placed to leverage domain-specific expertise, in this case from colleagues in the School of Geography, University of Leeds, in conjunction with high-quality commercial data such as those supplied by HERE.

The analysis reported here was undertaken by MSc student, Catherine Duffy, as part of the CDRC Masters Dissertation Scheme, which links Masters students with commercial sector partners. Catherine, a Geography Graduate from Leeds, was undertaking the MSc in Data Science and Analytics, and now works in a related role in the commercial sector.

You can read more about the analysis here: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-393X/10/1/50

For enquiries about this work, please contact:  Dr Andy Newing  

For more information on the CDRC Masters dissertation scheme please see: https://www.cdrc.ac.uk/education-and-training/masters-dissertation-scheme/

First Findings From IGD Research Trials Announced

Bowl of delicious looking fruit

First Findings From IGD Research Trials Announced

The research results from the first of our behaviour change trials working with the Institute of Grocery Distribution have been announced this week!  Further blogs from members of the team involved will follow in the next few weeks…

IGD press release

Collaboration between IGD, food and consumer goods industry and the University of Leeds helps shift people towards healthier, more sustainable diets

As part of its ambition to make healthy and sustainable diets easy for everyone, IGD is today launching the first results from its in-store behaviour change trials, testing what strategies at point of sale could shift consumers towards making healthier, more sustainable food and drink choices.

To find out what truly drives long-term behaviour change, IGD has joined forces with leading retailers, manufacturers and researchers at the University of Leeds, to put theory into practice with millions of people through a series of real-life behaviour change trials. These first results were taken from promotions across 101 Sainsbury’s stores during a four-week-period in both January 2020 and January 2021.

With 37% of consumers saying that cost prevents them from eating a healthy, sustainable diet1 , the trials tested the hypothesis: reducing the price of fruit and vegetables to 60p in stores across the country, for four weeks, should increase portions sold and variety of products purchased2 using three behaviour change levers. Sales data analysed by the team at The University of Leeds found the number of promoted fruit and vegetable portions sold increased by 78% when the price was reduced.

Susan Barratt, IGD CEO, said: “Obesity is one of the biggest health problems this country faces. Just 1% of the UK population currently meets government healthy eating guidance.3 With our diets having such a huge impact on our health and our planet, now is the time for government, the food and consumer goods industry and shoppers to take collective action. The most impactful way to make a difference is to change what we eat and drink.

“This report explores our initial findings, which already shows a positive impact through nudge tactics, pricing and product placement. This is a hugely exciting project, demonstrating the genuine opportunity our industry has to make healthy and sustainable diets easier and more accessible for everyone.”

As well as the number of promoted fruit or vegetables purchased, fruit and vegetable sales also increased beyond the items on offer. The findings show that promoted fruit and vegetable sales did decline after the promotions ended, although the rate of decline reduced year-on-year, suggesting some consumers carried their healthier eating habits forward.

Further findings from Sainsbury’s – looking at whether consumers continued to eat a greater variety of fruit and vegetables in the year after the trial – will be reported on in 2022.

IGD is leading the way and bringing industry together to collaboratively drive change by implementing the trials, with support from their research partner, the University of Leeds, through its Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) and Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC). LIDA is capturing and measuring sales data from each intervention to assess what levers drive long-term behaviour change to adopting healthier and more sustainable food and drink choices. With learnings from these and further trials that are underway with several UK retailers, which will be shared in 2022, IGD will recommend how industry can effectively shift consumer behaviour towards healthy and sustainable diets.

Dr Michelle Morris, who leads the Nutrition and Lifestyle Analytics team at LIDA/CDRC, said: “Using anonymous sales data at scale, over an extended period of time to understand consumer behaviours and evaluate interventions, is unique and exciting. The collaborative approach to study design, independent analysis and wide dissemination strategy means that we can share learnings across the sector to make the best changes to help consumers purchase healthier and more sustainable choices.”

Use this report to understand how, by working together, the food and consumer goods industry can drive change and trial real-life solutions to inspire others. As part of this work, IGD has also developed a hub of inspiring industry insight, bringing together a wealth of resources to help deliver change in your organisation. Visit the hub to find out why healthy, sustainable diets should be central to your business strategy and see how you can get involved.

For media enquiries please contact Sarah Burns sarah.burns@igd.com / t: 07483 094027.

  1. IGD (2021), Appetite for Change
  2. IGD, Healthy Sustainable Diets: Driving Change, Behavioural Insights Report 2021 – An adult portion of fruit and vegetables is 80g, according to Government guidance
  3. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/8/e037554

Masters Dissertation Scheme 2021: another fantastic year

Masters Dissertation Scheme 2021: another fantastic year of projects!

A record number of students from UK universities applied to the Masters Dissertation Scheme (MDS) this year. Of more than 80 applications, a total of 20 students were selected to partner with 15 organisations for their 2021 Masters dissertations. 

Real-world data was used across a range of issues to produce innovative research in areas from loyalty card and gambling harm data to housing, social media, health, retail, transport, construction and the justice system.

Abstracts for each dissertation can be found on the Project Archive page.  Five students have also recorded videos, talking about their experiences of the Scheme.

The range of subject areas covered gives the MDS a broad appeal and applications were received from students studying across numerous diverse disciplines, ranging from Business Analytics to Sustainable Urbanism, and Spatial Data Science to Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Applications also came from a wide range of UK universities including Bristol, City, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Loughborough, Nottingham, Oxford, UCL and Westminster. 

Congratulations to all of this year’s students, and special thanks to the sponsors and academics who supported the 2021 Scheme.  

For enquiries about the Masters Dissertation Scheme, or to discuss next year’s Scheme, please email info@cdrc.ac.uk  

Background to the CDRC Masters Dissertation Scheme 

In 2012, ESRC funding allowed for the establishment of the first MDS. Following its success, the MDS has continued to be funded annually, with ESRC funding used alongside business co-funding to sponsor Masters degree dissertations that address business horizon-scanning topics.

Proposals from business sponsors are sought during the first term of Masters courses and are posted on the CDRC website. Any interested Masters students studying at a UK institution are invited to apply for proposals from February 2022 (second term of the Masters). Dissertations are conducted by postgraduate students and are co-supervised by academics and business analysts from the sponsoring organisation.

Although funded initially on an ad-hoc basis, and subsequently subject to short term renewals of CDRC funding (such as under the World Class Labs’ funding stream), the Scheme has proven remarkably successful, with a total of 76 dissertations completed with external organisations to 2020 and a further 20 dissertations completed in this year’s very successful annual round (2020-2021 intake). 

Our LinkedIn network brings together a network of 90 students, sponsors and academics who have been involved in the Scheme over the past years. CDRC alumni and friends are invited to join here: www.linkedin.com/in/cdrc-alumni-group-1613a31ba/.  

Past MDS alumni work in a range of sectors worldwide, including retail, banking, hospitality, logistics and academia.  

Palatable change from the pandemic – a new food environment?

Palatable change from the pandemic – a new food environment?

Naturally, we are all concerned about our own and our family’s health and, with the rising issue of climate change, many of us are becoming increasingly worried about the health of the planet too. While living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is becoming a common goal, there are many barriers to making this aspiration a reality [i].

Eating a nutritious diet that minimises environmental impacts is the most important step we can personally take towards this…but what is a healthy and sustainable diet? Looking at our current consumption in the UK, a shift towards a more plant-based diet would be mutually beneficial for ourselves and the planet.

Please note that the plant-based diet we refer to does include meat and animal products, alongside a larger designated portion of vegetables, fruits, pulses and legumes.

The government’s current dietary recommendation from the Eatwell Guide is one example of a sustainable diet consisting considerably of plant-based products. We have, therefore, chosen the Eatwell Guide as our ‘healthy and sustainable diet’ model to shift behaviours towards.

Plate of food including grains, fish, green beans and tomatoes

Many organisations are also becoming increasingly aware that change is necessary and are working to facilitate a shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets [ii] [iii]. The National Food Strategy recently released ‘The Plan’ – an independent review for the Government on the English food system, which has drawn attention from researchers, retailers and policy makers alike.

I was among those eagerly awaiting the report, as here at the CDRC we’ve recently announced our partnership with IGD, which will involve investigating strategies to promote healthier and more sustainable dietary choices.

As an innovative hub utilising consumer data for academic research purposes, such a timely focus for a CDRC partnered project emphasises the reality of the issue we are trying to tackle, along with heightening people’s awareness of the changes we need to imminently make.

Healthier and more sustainable baskets

A number of leading UK retailers and manufacturers have designed a series of pilot interventions as part of IGD’s Healthy and Sustainable Diets Project Group, such as promotions on plant-based burgers or putting healthier options in prime in-store locations. Our team of researchers are assessing which interventions are particularly successful at encouraging consumers towards healthier and more sustainable choices.

Our analysis will study purchases by basket, not the individuals buying them, so all data is anonymised and not traceable back to any customer. Looking across baskets of goods allows us to observe any unintended consequences of the trial: by discretely upping the fruit and vegetable content of our diet towards the recommended third (39%), does it also inspire a reduction in meat or dairy purchases, or any foods high in fats, salts or sugars?

COVID-19 has inadvertently affected many aspects of our lives, from one lockdown to the next. Shopping habits had to change with the Government’s advice to go to the supermarket less frequently and shop local whenever possible. Many of us also experienced first-hand the reduction in pollution levels when travel was restricted, raising awareness of the importance of making more sustainable lifestyle choices. 

Consumer data enables insight into how people’s shopping frequency and habits have changed over this time. Evaluating IGD interventions relies upon analysing the retailer’s transaction data across the 12-week intervention period, along with the 12 months prior and post start date. However, as I’m sure we can all agree, the last 12 months have not been a usual year. This research, therefore, requires a longer period of pre-intervention data (one additional year that also predates COVID-19), and additional analytical approaches to account for this unprecedented time and produce meaningful findings.

Our approach

Firstly, observing changes in supermarkets (such as explicit guidance on one-way shopping routes, one designated shopper per household and an increase in online shopping), our expectation is there will be less variability in the data (i.e. less variety of items in baskets/between shops), with people’s purchases becoming more habitual. It also means in-store cues, such as promotional signposting, may not be as effective as usual with restricted mobility within aisles.

Mindful of the shift to online shopping for many customers, transaction data will be studied across all online purchases as well as in-store.

A key feature to establish about the data, before generating any statistics on shifting behaviours, is gaining a sound understanding of the sample – how representative is it? IGD interventions are trialled at multiple store locations of differing regions and degrees of urbanisation to capture generalisable results for consumers in the UK. Data is also available for matched control stores (with direct regional and demographic comparisons) to control for any changes over the pandemic period, and enable observation of the impact of the intervention rather than local lockdowns.

To counter unusual shopping patterns during the pandemic, with many people purchasing ‘local’ for certain items, we will investigate behaviours within the ‘most loyal’ subset of consumers.

It is also important to look at socio-economic profiles for purchasing patterns. Understanding if certain promotions are more successful with particular demographic groups – for example, men compared to women, or in those living in deprived compared to affluent areas – is crucial. This type of comparison is more important than ever as we know that COVID-19 has hit the poorest the hardest, exacerbating socio-economic inequalities [iv] [v] [vi].

A time for change

Attitudes to food have also changed within the last year. As people spent more time at home, lockdown became a time of culinary experimentation for some, or a struggling time of increased food insecurity for others.

Although experiences of the pandemic have drastically differed, it has been a time of change collectively. For a significant period, food shops were one of the few areas designated essential by the government. People have come to associate choices about their food with an opportunity to take control of something, in a context where other choices have been suspended.

Many people have changed their shopping and cooking habits during this period. We have seen organisations recognise this through the provision of cooking packs and recipe cards at both the value and luxury ends of food retail outlets. Adapting constantly to new legislations and restrictions, our lives are ever changing as the pandemic continues. While we are still changing our culinary behaviours, perhaps this is one opportunity to create a positive outcome and help nudge people towards healthier and more sustainable choices.

Despite analysis being slightly more complex in light of COVID-19, as a result people could be more receptive to IGD interventions. Our hope is that our research will uncover strategies to help retailers and manufacturers take a leading role in anchoring new, positive behaviours that become permanent habits for the wider public.

Alexandra Dalton is a Data Scientist enrolled on the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics internship programme, having graduated from the University of Leeds with a Masters in Mathematics, which included a year of study at the University of Adelaide. She is currently working in collaboration with IGD, major retailers and UK manufacturers as the lead analyst from the University of Leeds team to evaluate strategies to promote healthier and more sustainable dietary choices. Alexandra is keenly interested in sustainability, nutrition and lifestyle analytics, hence enjoying the insights made possible by consumer data to the intersectional field of nutrition and behavioural science in her current research.


[i] Institute of Grocery Distribution (2020). Appetite for Change. [Accessed online via:https://www.igd.com/social-impact/ ].

[ii] House of Lords (2019-20). Hungry for change: fixing the failures in food. [Accessed online via: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/ ] .

[iii] Institute of Grocery Distribution (2020). IGD’s Healthy and Sustainable Diets Project Group. [Accessed online via: https://www.igd.com/articles/].

[iv] Barker, M., & Russell, J. (2020). Feeding the food insecure in Britain: learning from the 2020 COVID-19 crisis. Food Security12(4), 865-870.

[v] Power, M., Doherty, B., Pybus, K., & Pickett, K. (2020). How COVID-19 has exposed inequalities in the UK food system: The case of UK food and poverty. Emerald Open Research2.

[vi] Blundell, R., Cribb, J., McNally, S., Warwick, R., Xu, X. (2021) Inequalities in education, skills, and incomes in the UK: The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Acessed online via: https://ifs.org.uk/ ]