Vegetables at a grocery store

COVID-19 is changing Britain’s relationship with food

Research paints picture of a divided nation

  • Just under 3 in 5 people (57%) say they value food more now
  • But almost half (45%) are more worried about food than before

Virtual meals, cooking from scratch, wasting less food and families eating together more are some of the positive shifts in food-related behaviours taking place in households across the country according to new research commissioned by environmental charity Hubbub. But the research also reveals many are struggling to put meals on the table and are worried about food, with increasing numbers turning to food banks for the first time.

90% of the nationally representative sample of 2,000+ UK adults surveyed* say their shopping and/or cooking habits have changed since the Coronavirus lockdown started.

What’s Cooking?

45% of respondents say they are cooking more since the restrictions were introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus. Over half (54%) of those cooking more said it was because they now have the time to cook that they didn’t before and 42% cite the need to cook from scratch more due to the sort of food they can get hold of.

44% of people are enjoying cooking more since the restrictions began although more than a quarter (26%) are finding preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Young people in particular are keen to learn to cook more, with almost half (47%) of those aged 16-24 are seeing lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, compared with a national average of 34%. 16-24s were, however more likely to find this tiring, with 40% saying they find preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Eating and Meeting

More than half of people (57%) say they value food more now since the corona virus restrictions started, with 43% saying they are also enjoying their food more.

40% of those aged 16-24 have had a virtual meal over video link (Zoom, Skype, Facetime etc.) for the first time and almost half (47%) of people are enjoying spending more time eating with their family or housemates.

The diet implications of lockdown may have a lass positive impact on our health. 36% admitted to comfort-eating more to deal with the anxiety or boredom (40% for 16-24-year-olds) and almost a third (31%) are not eating as much fresh fruit and veg as usual due to avoiding shops as much as possible.

Struggling For Food

Whilst a reconnection with food has been a positive experience for some, for others the pandemic has reduced their food security. 45% of respondents said they were more worried about food than before and 43% are worried about the extra cost of providing food for their household. Almost a fifth (18%) of the population is worried about getting access to free food such as through a food bank or community fridge. 7% of people said they have used a food bank for the first time since the restrictions began, rising to 15% of those aged 16-24 and 14% of those aged 25-34.

Food Savvy

Concerns that a surge in panic buying would lead to an increase in food waste levels appear to be unfounded. Almost half of people (48%) say they are throwing away less food since the restrictions began and only 6% say they are throwing away more.

Of those wasting less, people say they are planning meals more carefully (51%) and are getting better at using leftovers (41%). People are also making better use of their freezer, with 35% using it more and 29% freezing a wider variety of foods. Portion control is also a factor, with 27% now giving more accurate portion sizes and just over 1 in 4 (26%) are leaving less on the plate.

Of those wasting less, one in six (17%) are paying less attention to use by dates, eating more out of date food than usual. One respondent recently found a can of beans from 1989. Others consumed a can of coconut milk six years past its sell-by date, a five-year-old bottle of beer and a six-year-old bag of pasta with, fortunately, no ill effects.

With a reported surge in people growing their own and demand for compost through the roof, 45% of people said they’d like to have more skills in growing food, rising to 58% of those aged 25-34 – the most of any age group.

Shifting Shopping Habits

More than a quarter (26%) said they are buying better quality food as they are not going out or spending money on other things. While more than a third (34%) of people are supporting smaller/local businesses more than ever before, 43% say they are buying fewer takeaways as they are worried about contamination. A further 42% say they are not buying takeaways because money is tight.

29% said they were using their local corner shop/convenience store for the first time.

And there are signs that this will this continue once the restrictions are over. The majority (89%) of those who’ve made changes say they will continue to use at least one of the new shopping alternatives to supermarkets once the restrictions have ended. Many will continue to use local shops (41% will carry on using their local corner shop, 20% the local butcher, 13% the local farm shop and 15% the local greengrocer). And many will continue with home deliveries – 11% will continue with their fruit/veg box, 9% with milk delivery.

Trewin Restorick, CEO and Co-Founder of Hubbub said: “The impact of COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we are eating.  Our polling reveals a divided nation.  Some families are eating together more, young people are learning to cook, people want to know more about growing food and are planning meals better and using up leftovers. More people are shopping locally. But concerningly, just under half are more worried about food than previously and 43% are concerned about the cost of food.”

“In response to the polling, Hubbub is stepping up the support that we are providing, helping people get more value from their food – but more needs to be done.  Today we are calling on supermarkets to step up their efforts to provide support and guidance to households helping them cope with these extraordinary times.”

Hubbub’s  top  ten  tips  to make your food go further  whilst  in isolation:

    1. Plan ahead  –  plan your week’s meals and  only buy  the food you need
    2. Avoid panic buying – we are all still able to shop once a week, so you don’t need to buy enough food for a month
    3. Check expiry dates when you’re shopping
    4. Remember that  food  might  still be eaten after its ‘best before date’ – check it looks and smells OK. Food past its best  can still be enjoyed.
    5. Make room  in your freezer so you have plenty of storage space  and check out Hubbub’s helpful guide to  what food you can freeze – it’s more than you think!  https://www.hubbub.org.uk/12-freezer-friendly-foods
    6. Many of us have  neighbours  who might not be able to get out to shop, so offer to share surplus food with them, whilst  remembering to observe government guidelines on hand washing and social distancing
    7. Make the most of store cupboard staples to bulk up meals – now is the time to make use of those chickpeas,  beans and  rice that have been sitting in your  cupboard for some time.
    8. Batch cook  meals  and freeze  them for future use
    9. Check out some of the online resources for free cooking and growing tips and lessons, such as  social  media channels for  Hubbub,  Mob Kitchen  and  Borough Market
    10. Take the opportunity of more time with your children to teach them valuable cooking skills  to set them up for a healthier and more sustainable future

For more advice and tips to make your food go further, visit https://www.foodsavvy.org.uk