Our changing eating habits

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Attitudes towards mealtimes have changed through the generations.

Fifty to eighty years ago, it was typical for a family to have their meals at the same time every day. However, a lot of people have now lost this disciplined approach to meals. Today, though, we are surrounded by choice. Takeaways, fast food and ready meals have changed the way that meals are prepared and eaten.

Modern-day cooking allows far less time than days gone by. Convenience food has increasingly become the norm and the time taken to prepare and cook a main meal has halved to 30 minutes compared to 1980. Convenience is not just about time, but also ease of cooking and, more recently, the trend has been in favour of the latter.

While British food remains the nation’s favourite, its popularity is waning as we eat more international cuisine. This has been influenced by a number of factors: increasing travel abroad, the advent and popularity of street food and the change in the social mix of the UK population. This has meant that the popularity of old favourites, like the roast dinner, has been declining. By contrast, we have seen the growth of dish-based cuisines - meals comprising components rather than a protein at the heart of the meal, like pizza or spaghetti Bolognese.

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The increasing focus on convenience will also be a factor in this trend, especially if you live in a smaller household and tend not to want to spend much time cooking. In 1960, one-to-two-person households were just over 40% of the total. This figure had risen to 63% in 2016.

Food allergies and intolerances are more common now than they ever have been. This has led to a sharp increase in the sales of free-from products. Some 39% of UK adults claim to use/buy free-from food and drink, up from 31% in 2016. While the growth figures for the free-from category look impressive, it is worth remembering that, according to Kantar data, the category still only accounts for 0.9% of total grocery expenditure.

What we eat, where we eat and our attitude to food has changed markedly in the last few decades, and continues to evolve. Recent media coverage around a vegan diet and plan/insect-based proteins is testimony to this. The challenge for the industry and opportunity for the agricultural sector is to continue to adapt to the changing trends, and, where possible, be ahead of the curve. Understanding what factors may shape how future generations will behave when it comes to their diet and the way they shop and eat is key. A business-as-usual approach is not sustainable and it will be those players who can adapt and tap into the new trends that will be best placed to succeed.

To read more about our changing eating habits, click here.

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Sukhvinder Gill, Retail Insight Manager

sukhvinder.gill@ahdb.org.uk  024 7647 8672