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Creating a Healthy Food City

Birmingham is a global city where all citizens can eat & enjoy affordable, safe, ethical & environmentally sustainable and healthy food.

Photo of Justin Varney
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Birmingham City Council

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Government (City, State, National, etc.)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The delivery of this vision is led by Birmingham City Council who are the core team for this bid. The Council has established a multi-agency partnership forum to deliver this vision, the 'Creating a Healthy City Forum' that is chaired by the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health supported by the Director of Public Health for the city. The Forum has invited representation from all political parties represented on the City Council. The Forum includes representation from the following organisations: Voluntary & Community Organisations - Food Foundation - Food Council - Real Urban Food Project - Sustain - Trussel Trust Academic institutions - University of Birmingham - University College Birmingham - Birmingham City University Private Business Sector - Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Public Sector Organisations - Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group - Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group - Public Health England

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Birmingham City, UK

What country is your selected Place located in?

United Kingdom

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Birmingham is the largest unitary city authority in the UK. Birmingham City Council is responsible for protecting and improving the health of the population of the citizens of Birmingham and is the lead public sector agency for the city. The Council has six ambitions for the city:

Birmingham is an entrepreneurial city to learn, work and invest in

Birmingham is an aspirational city to grow up in

Birmingham is a fulfilling city to age well in

Birmingham is a great city to live in

Birmingham residents gain the maximum benefit from hosting the Commonwealth Games

Birmingham is a green city

The Council Cabinet has a statutory multi-agency sub-committee focused on improving health and wellbeing of citizens - Health and Wellbeing Board - which is chaired by the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health. Improving health and wellbeing of citizens underpins delivery of all six ambitions and is fundamental to the success of the city as well as the citizen.

In 2019 the Board established five multi-agency sub-committees to accelerate delivery of key priorities for the city following a public consultation on public health priorities for the city and a series of stakeholder workshops with key strategic partner organisations in the city.

One of the five sub-committees is the 'Creating a Healthy Food City Forum' which is chaired by the Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health. To shape the forum we held a series of workshops with stakeholders to understand the context of the food system in the city, the challenges and the opportunities to make a difference at scale. Together with the 'Creating an Active City Forum' both work streams will collaborate towards creating a healthier weight city.

The Forum was ratified by the Health and Wellbeing Board in September 2019 and received the first formal update on progress in Jan 2020. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

We are the youngest city in Europe with under 25s accounting for nearly 40% of our population. We have over 400 schools, 5 universities and over five hundred faith organisations in the city. We are a global city with over 42% of the population being from non-white ethnicities and over 187 different countries represented in the city.  

The city faces significant challenges around health inequalities, including obesity and cardiovascular disease. We recognise that food and nutrition underpin many of these inequalities, citizens relationships with food, their ability to buy healthy and affordable food is key to having a healthy life.  Tackling this requires a whole system approach to the food system that creates sustained change in the food environment across the city, especially in the most challenged communities, rather than sporadic individual interventions focused on addressing the impacts of poor nutrition, we have to turn off the tap of ill health rather than continually bail out the bucket of disease. Creating a healthy food city where healthy, safe, affordable food is available to every citizen is fundamental to achieving a healthier population for the future.

The food system is important to the city economy with over 8,500 food businesses in the city registered with the Food Standards Agency and almost a hundred food production and transformation businesses licensed. The City Council is the responsible authority in the city for inspecting food premises and issuing food safety ratings and enforcement, as well as being the lead organisation for economic growth and development. Creating a sustainable food economy in the city is pivotal to creating a city that is economically as well as socially successful.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: The challenges facing the UK are reflective of the challenges facing Birmingham. Food provisioning accounts for over 20% of UK consumption related emissions. We are not on track to meet the legal target to reach net zero GHGe by 2050. The impact of agriculture on biodiversity is significant - eg the UK farmland bird index in 2016 was less than half of in 1970. In the UK, approximately 13 million MT of food waste is generated each year. It is estimated that 2/3rds of our food’s land footprint is overseas. We therefore need a huge shift in consumption, production and trade to improve the environmental impact of food.

Diet: On average, the UK consumes more saturated fat, salt & sugar & less fibre, fruit, vegetables and oily fish than recommended. In Birmingham only 51.8% of adults met the recommendation of 5 fruit & veg a day. There is very high malnutrition/diet-related disease prevalence in Birmingham - 65.1% of adults are overweight or obese; 25.2% are obese at age 10-11 - with a higher prevalence in more deprived groups. Childhood obesity is an indication of the health burden to come. Poor diet is the greatest risk factor for ill health in England accounting for 10.8% of total disease burden & the situation is more severe in Birmingham. 

Economics: Birmingham suffers from higher than average unemployment & contains some of the poorest areas in the country. There are over 8500 food businesses registered in Birmingham, many rely on selling unhealthy food. The food environment provides ready access to unhealthy food that is convenient & affordable: 30% of all food outlets are takeaways. Birmingham Council’s funding has been reduced by 25% in the last 3 years with further reductions expected. Services including weight management, food access & nutrition/health education have been drastically cut. 

Culture: Through social media many of our citizens are directly influenced by the social/cultural narratives on food in different parts of the world which do not always align to UK food narratives. There are challenges in translating healthy eating guidelines & engaging citizens in ways that are culturally appropriate. This challenge will grow as the global connectivity of the world grows & there is increasing blending of food cultures/behaviours.

Technology: We expect to see a continued technological shift towards micro-agricultural solutions focused on closing the supply chain & tailoring food production in the context of climate change, urbanisation & cultural shifts. However few of these are currently economically viable or scalable.

Policy: To prepare this vision we conducted a policy audit for the city which identified a number of key policy gaps and opportunities. Compared to the scale of the challenge, the city needs to take much further and wide-reaching action. While there are some good existing policies/programmes these are often isolated/disconnected.

Across these challenges there is a common theme that our relationship with food is complex, impacted by cultural & economic factors, driving disease & inequality as well as reflecting them. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Creating a Healthy Food City is about creating a future where Birmingham is a global city where all citizens can eat & enjoy an affordable, safe, ethical & environmentally sustainable healthy diet.

By taking a whole system approach to the food system of the city in partnership with citizens, businesses, academics, voluntary and civic organisations we aim to create sustainable solutions that fundamentally shift the city, its economy and its citizens’ relationship with food.

Our vision seeks to address the specific challenges as follows:

Environment: we will strengthen supply chains between the farms in our vicinity and our city businesses and public procurement and we will support, through planning, the proliferation of urban fruit and veg producers supplying the city’s retailers, schools, care homes and restaurants, using the latest technology solutions where we can.

Diet: we will support our citizens to move away from diets which have high calories, sugar, fat and salt towards diets which are richer in fibre, fruit and veg and less reliant on animal-source foods. We will start with our schools and nurseries in supporting the development of healthy taste preferences and well-evidenced food education.

Economics: we will explore how to create sustainable economic environments for local businesses which mean they are more likely to thrive if they offer a wider range of healthy, sustainable food and a smaller range of unhealthy food.

Culture: we will support communities to celebrate the diversity of traditional cuisines in our city thereby strengthening intergenerational ties and improving cooking skills

Technology: we will use digital technology and data-driven solutions to inform our transformation, addressing the data and intelligence gaps in the food system.

Policy: through the development of the Birmingham strategy to Create a Healthy Food City we will deliver a joined up approach to delivering the vision. We will also ensure that the Council and its partners lead by example ensuring that all food paid for and procured through public services meets health and environmental standards and by joining up our public health and business development priorities.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our vision is that Birmingham is a global city where all citizens can eat & enjoy an affordable, safe, ethical & environmentally sustainable healthy diet.

In terms of place this will mean that we have an vibrant & diverse economy across the city for food business that reflects a strong ethical & sustainably sourced approach & offers affordable, healthy & safe food to citizens. Our urban environment will be full of home to food businesses which make unproductive spaces, productive. Our retailers will connect with local suppliers & support local communities. Our schools will embed food education in the curriculum & lead by example in the quality of their food service. 

Importantly our food consumption will play a much bigger part in supporting our economy. Birmingham would be known as a city where good food is the norm – whether you’re shopping in a corner shop or eating in a pub.

In terms of people, delivering this vision will mean that citizens will no longer see food as something that creates stress or anxiety, particularly in relation to cost. Instead they will be able to easily access affordable, safe & healthy food which they have confidence in & reflects the cultural diversity of the city. 

Citizens will take pleasure in knowing that our food is nourishing our bodies & not doing undue harm to people, animals or our environment. Knowing they are setting up children with a good nutritional start in life & leaving a replenished natural environment. Eating more often with friends & family, creating good food memories, growing & enjoying food which tastes good. Proud of the food culture which our city has fostered & we have all helped to create.

Citizens will understand that food is the golden thread in society, supported to use their personal agency to make healthy, sustainable choices.  They will know they are playing a critical part in the change being made, but that they are not acting against the grain of their environment & are not acting in isolation.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision requires transformative change in our city. While we are the largest local authority in Europe, and there is a clear role for local policy in driving transformation, other must also be inspired to act to deliver the depth of transformation needed.  

Our theory of change relies on a citizen-led and -informed approach which ensures our new policies are informed by lived experience and which enables citizens to act and show leadership on food in their own lives, homes and workplaces.  

We will also be placing considerabe importance on the transformational role of food businesses given the important part they play in our local economy and in creating the food environments in which our citizens live.  They can be supported and incentivised to act in new ways, they can be regulated in other areas, and at the same time we will need to be coordinating closely with national policy makers to ensure businesses which are headquartered our side of the city or the country are not allowed to undermine our efforts in the city of Birmingham. 

Our vision will be improved through a programme of deep citizen engagement which we have initiated across the city.  

So far we have already conducted 40 targeted food conversations with groups of citizens whose voices are seldom heard, this included focus group discussions with lesbian & gay & bisexual citizens, citizens with disabilities, different ethnic minority groups and different age groups as well as older adults living in residential care as well as in independently in the community.  Working with our partner city, Pune, we have launched a digital survey of eating practices which so far has been completed by over 400 citizens and we are continuing to engage citizens to participate with an target of over 1,000 participants by Summer 2020. We are looking at ways to use culture and arts as vehicles to engage citizens in the conversation in different ways about their relationships with food. Business is key to achieving our vision and alongside citizen engagement we are developing a engagement approach to work with businesses involved in the food system of the city to ensure that they co-produce the solutions and help us ensure a future that is economically sustainable as well as environmentally responsible, healthy, safe and affordable. 

We are considering a number of interventions which support the six interconnected themes such as:


  • Creating a scheme for large mobile container production of fruit and vegetables  (including using hydroponics) on disused sites as a source of skill development and local supply for schools.


  • Planning policies to limit proliferation of hot food takeaways around schools and limiting variable pricing which targets school children
  • Further restrictions on unhealthy food advertising/stimulating healthy and sustainable food advertising across local government and other public sector owned estate and public transport
  • Working with supermarket chains and convenience stores to shift sales towards affordable and healthier food baskets, based on the Food Foundation’s Peas Please initiative


  • Maximising the benefit of the Healthy Start food voucher scheme (free vitamins and fruit/vegetable/milk) for lower income families by facilitating uptake and access to healthy foods locally.
  • Large scale upskilling in healthy and sustainable food manufacture and preparation


  • Maximising potential non-health drivers for changes in food behaviour (e.g. climate change) through novel engagement approaches (e.g. the Food Foundation’s Veg Power initiative)
  • Understand the different cultural drivers of belief and behaviours in different communities across the city and how these relate to international comparisons in partner cities.


  • Nutritional and environmental assessment of out-of-home food, leading to widespread menu labelling and reformulation, building on pilot work by Samsung start-up Whisk 
  • Incentivising local and regional procurement and production through the development of a digital food chain market place for SMEs, creating stronger links between the rural hinterland and Vale of Evesham and the city’s food consumption.


  • Rigorous implementation of healthy and sustainable food procurement policies across the public sector, including all schools, hospitals, prisons, government offices and facilities

We recognise that we have significant work to do to be able to monitor the food system outcomes at a city level and we are keen to develop a suite of metrics as we work to deliver this vision. The type of metrics we are looking to develop and would expect to see change is a significant reduction in food miles consumed in the city, improvement in average nutritional value of a basket of food in Birmingham, a significant reduction in businesses requiring enforcement of food safety regulation, an increase in the number of people employed in the food business sector of the city and a reduced food business failure rate across the city.

Our approach is ambitious and courageous, founded in the views of our citizens and the needs of our city, we know that if we do not make these changes that the future is bleak. We hope that you will join us on this journey to create a healthy food city that works for all our citizens today and tomorrow.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

We have had limited ability to refine the Vision because the City has been responding to the Covid19 outbreak and hence all non-essential work has halted, including work on this bid.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

The Food Foundation

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

We have been analysing the findings from the Birmingham Food Conversation Survey which engaged over 230 citizens to share their views on food and their views on food policy.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

We focused on the findings from the food survey in the city.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

In our vision of a healthy food city, every citizen will have access to affordable, healthy, sustainable food that meets their dietary and cultural needs and is enjoyable and delicious. 

In 2050 every family will be able to wake up in the morning and enjoy a breakfast which reflects their cultural identity and sets them up for a positive day. Food will be environmentally sustainable and the majority of produce will be sourced through supply chains that are low-carbon impact and ecologically positive.

During the working and school day there will be easy access to free fresh and clean water in workplaces and school settings. Lunchtime will be a standard period in which individuals get to enjoy food as a social connection and it will be affordable and culturally relevant. There will be multiple affordable healthy food options across the geography of the city reflecting a vibrant and diverse food economy with multiple food manufacturers, retailers and distributers working in a cyclic food system to avoid waste..

At the end of the working day families, and or friends, will eat together, enjoying food that is tasty and delicious and not face financial stress linked to food poverty or insecurity.

Throughout the day food waste is actively recycled or repurposed and children and adults will eat in a way that is conscious and mindful.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

We aim to drive action to an environmentally sustainable food system through primarily economic leverage. As an urban centre the primary influence we can have on the food system is through the retail supply chain and consumer influence, particularly on global supermarket retail behaviour. We hope that through our specific focus on healthy economic development for the food business sector we can shape this reality.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

A healthy food city means a city in which healthy food is the preferable choice because it is affordable, tasty and available. This is not currently the case and often people eat too much of high calorie density low nutrient value food leading to metabolic disease and obesity. By making healthy food more accessible and tailoring it to cultural preferences we hope this will shape a healthier diet for all citizens.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

In 2050 we aim to have a city in which the food sector reflects the values and diversity of citizens. We are already working towards being a living wage city and ensuring that this is adopted across the food system, especially in the food retail and hospitality sector is key to this.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

We are working with citizens to shape a Healthy Food city that reflects the diversity and cultural values of the city in pro-active ways. As a global city this means supporting diverse supply chains so that culturally appropriate healthy food is sustainable and affordable, something that is not always the case currently.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

We are looking to technology to play and important role in shaping our vision, not least because there is currently so little intelligence about the food system in the public domain and this inhibits the ability to monitor trends and behavioural shifts. There is also potential for technology to shift food system supply chains and bring agriculture closer to the citizens in urban settings.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

We feel that the key lever in this space is the focus on healthy food economic development and using the inclusive growth strategies as well as spatial planning to shape and mould a healthier food city in Birmingham.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

The core thread through our vision and themes is the focus on using economic growth as a pivotal lever point to shape a healthier food city for the benefit of citizens and embedding it in an economically as well as environmentally sustainable way for generations to come.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

We recognise that there are trade offs and that the food system is part of a global economic landscape and many of the key actors are national and international but we hope that as one of the largest unitary cities in Europe we have the scale to influence.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

In the next 3 years we hope to achieve:

- Establishing a framework for healthy food economy growth and stimulus, piloted through the East Birmingham Economic Growth Corridor

- Have a strong established food narrative in communities which is co-owned and co-produced

- Established a coherent data dashboard to track activity across the food system including manufacturing, logistics, transformation, retail, consumption and waste in near real time.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

In 10 years we would hope to have achieved:

- Academic evaluation of the health food economic growth framework

- Robust sustainable economic growth for healthy food businesses demonstrating a growth margin that is more successful than old models

- Clear evidence of shift in consumer and business behaviours

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

We would use the funding to support strengthening the academic and data support for our vision to enable us to have a must stronger underpinning framework of data to inform our vision and approach.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

We hope that our vision will inspire a transformation of the global food economy and demonstrate that focusing on healthy food economic growth can is achievable and sustainable at the scale of a global city.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

We have not had time to develop this visual due to Covid19


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Justin Varney congratulations on putting together such a holistic Vision that is looking at having one or more be a city-based coalition. For refinement, how might you detail out your Vision to define the feasibility and operational details of designing and running such coalitions in the future?

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