Fried chicken shop, after fried chicken shop. That’s the food geography of many a high street across the UK. And the vast majority are piling it high and selling it cheap. It’s a recipe for success for many. Their largest, in every sense of the word, customer base is young people. With thousands of these takeaways situated within easy walking distance of schools, they are seen as a major contributory factor in the truly alarming obesity rates affecting our youth, one in three of whom are now classified as obese.

Since 2013, Shift, formerly known as We Are What We Do, has been working to find a solution. Can takeaway outlets serving genuinely healthy food compete against standard fast food businesses?

Shift has just published the results of its two-year experiment and the report makes for interesting reading.

Working with local government teams in five London boroughs they ran a series of trials, involving six mobile fast food outlets, serving meals that contained under 400 calories, less than 21g of fat, less than 6g of saturated fat, less than 15g of added sugars, and less than 2.4g of salt. Most meals also contained considerably higher levels of protein, fibre, micronutrients and vegetables than standard fast food offerings.

Over the course of the project, they sold almost 3,000 meals and a third of their customers were students. Of the six offerings tested, two demonstrated genuine potential for sustainability:

Taste and value prized more than healthiness

While healthy fast food has taken off in more affluent areas, with Leon leading the way, Shift’s CEO, Nick Stanhope, acknowledges that value and taste remain the key priorities for many. He says: “We believe that this trend will make only a modest contribution, if any, to solving the question of how to introduce healthier takeaway food in low income areas. Instead, the focus should be on working closely with target customer groups in these areas to create new brands, menus and business models that reflect their tastes, needs and priorities…Overtly healthy food may be a less appealing proposition, irrespective of price, for some segments of the target audience.”

This raises an interesting wider issue. Delicious food that’s healthy, delicious food that’s sustainable, delicious food that’s good – that’s how we see the future. Make food that tastes good and is good, and the customers will come.

Shift also worked closely with the councils in the five project boroughs and see the huge potential influence these authorities could have. But Nick says councils need to be freed from red tape to support ventures trying to do the right thing.

“Businesses that deliver healthy, affordable fast food in deprived areas and provide better employment and training opportunities represent valuable assets for local government and, for these business to be sustainable, councils need to be given more powers to support them.”

Shift is now looking forward to working closely with councils to think more broadly about how to use the levers they have to make healthy fast food provision to young people a sustainable venture, including exploring ideas such as reduced business rates, and pitches in more prominent locations. We wish them luck.

You can read the full report here