The rise of home cooking in lockdown | Trends and Insights 2020-2021

After we looked into how the hospitality industry adapted to COVID-19, Innovation Director at The English Provender Company – Kate Sayers – explores the rise of home cooking, the trends that have emerged and what lies ahead for home dining following the pandemic. 

The rise of home-cooking

Since March 2019, a significant proportion of the country have either been working from home, on Furlough, or out of work. The stay at home orders issued by the government throughout the pandemic, alongside the periodic shut down and restrictions of the hospitality industry, have meant people have had more free time and reason to experiment in the kitchen. Research from global market research provider, Mintel, found that 55% of people plan on cooking from scratch more since the COVID-19 outbreak, with Bain and Company estimating 60% of meal occasions were cooked in the home pre-pandemic which has now increased to 72%. For some, it’s ignited a passion for cooking, for others it’s been a way to pass the time productively. So what has the public been plating up? Let’s look at some of the trends we’ve seen come out of the home-cooking boom throughout the pandemic. 

Home-cooking trends during lockdown

Healthy eating

People are looking to eat more healthy and balanced diets, perhaps motivated by the higher risks of complications and fatality posed by COVID-19 to those overweight or obese, as announced by Public Health England. As a result, 37% of people say eating immunity boosting foods has become more of a priority since the start of the lockdown (Mintel). This has led to a surge in cooking from scratch due to greater control over the ingredients and preparation methods used, in comparison to pre-made sauces and ready meals. 

Flexitarian diets

With the rise of the health-conscious consumer, we’ve also seen a big shift towards plant-based cooking during the pandemic. A study by The Vegan Society found that 20% of Brits reduced their meat intake in lockdown, while 15% chose to reduce their dairy and/or egg intake. The health risks associated with being overweight and battling Coronavirus – alongside global conversations around the detrimental impact of the world’s meat consumption following popular Netflix documentaries such as ‘Game Changers,’ and shocking news stories about Amazon Rainforest fires used to clear land for farming – have led to a rise of flexitarians opting for meat and dairy substitutes. This trend is set to continue, with The Independent noting big brands such as Unilever, Magnum, and Ben and Jerry’s all trademarking vegan products in the last year. 

Mixing things up

Research found that a quarter of households are spending more time cooking together and 33% said mealtimes have become more of an occasion. With people spending more time in the kitchen, recipe inspiration and step by step videos have played a key role in expanding our typical weekly menus. Many want to experiment with new flavours that distract from the fact they can’t go out to their favourite restaurants, whilst others are trying their hand at family-recipes to provide a sense of nostalgia. Popular recipe inspo destination BBC Good Food found that searches of recipes for cocktails, pasta and baked goods all surged throughout the pandemic, with ‘fakeaway’ recipes proving incredibly popular – ‘chicken katsu curry’ saw a 300% increase in searches, whilst ‘how to make southern fried chicken’ was up by over a staggering 5000%!

The rise of the bakers

Sales of home-baking items soared during lockdown. Flour turned into one of the hottest commodities as many turned to baking as a distraction, making treats for their vulnerable friends, neighbours and family members or as a sign of appreciation for key workers who have kept the country going throughout the pandemic. Aside from sweet treats like biscuits, cookies and cupcakes, what were people baking?

For months, images of sourdough filled our social media feeds and everyone seemed to be trying their hand at making their own. So much so that Google reported ‘Sourdough Recipes’ to be the top-trending food the world searched to bake in their 2020 roundup!

Sourdough wasn’t the only bread to bake it’s way into our daily lives. Banana bread recipes became a staple in many people’s culinary conquests. It became so popular that The Grocer reported over 45,000 new photos of banana bread were posted on Instagram in April alone! The simple, easy to make recipe not only tastes great, but also allows people to use up the browning bananas that have sat in the fruit bowl a little too long and so reduces food waste, which has been another key trend during lockdown.

Home-cooking kits 

The pandemic has brought with it a whole host of societal issues including sparse supermarket shelves due to stockpiling, long queues and social distancing measures. With many reluctant or unable to tackle the weekly shop, we saw a surge in home delivery meal kits from the likes of Gousto, Mindful Chef and Hello Fresh. These home-cooking kits deliver pre-measured ingredients and easy to follow recipes for a range of tasty dinners straight to your door, helping diners recreate a restaurant experience at home. Not only do they allow customers to try a variety of interesting dishes, the amount of each ingredient is carefully weighed out which means minimal to no food wastage. 

According to a detailed study from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), UK households waste 4.5m tonnes of food a year worth a whopping £14bn, which amounts to £700 for an average family with children. Lockdown has seen people trying to be more mindful of food waste, not only to avoid unnecessary supermarket trips for wasteful ingredients but also with a more conscious approach to their weekly shop after it was highlighted that a staggering number of families across the country were dependent on food banks to put food on the table.  

The role of health and safety in our eating habits

In times of such uncertainty and risk, people want to feel safe and as in control as possible. With stores playing an integral role in keeping food on our tables and maintaining a strong and healthy diet, shoppers want to know their food suppliers and supermarkets are working to stringent rules and regulations to be COVID-19 safe. 

One of the biggest shifts in grocery statistics relates to a drop in the number of trips we are making to supermarkets and grocery stores, as we take a more planned and proactive approach to the weekly shop, making fewer but more substantial shopping trips. Kantar data found that in May 2020, our shopping habits had reduced to 3.5 times per week on average, meaning 100 million fewer trips overall than in the same month in 2019, and an increased spend per trip to £27.41 – nearly 50% more than pre-covid times – highlighting our less frequent but more substantial shopping trips. 

As we mentioned earlier, attitudes towards the human impact on the planet and subsequent issues such as global warming, wildfires and ocean acidification, have become more prevalent in dictating buying habits and lifestyles, with many looking for more sustainable options. Pre-Covid, reducing the amount of single use plastic and excessive packaging in our daily lives was already a key issue in the minds of consumers. However, in the early phases of the pandemic, hygiene worries over-rode environmental concerns, with a survey from Mintel in June finding that 55% of those asked agreed with the statement ‘It’s more important to protect food hygiene than it is to minimise plastic packaging waste.’

Despite the immediate concerns over the sanitisation of all materials, packaging and food against COVID-19, the reality is that in the medium to long term, environmental concerns will prevail and further action will take place to reduce the negative impact of human consumption on the world. The growth of sustainable living will occur through more conscious buying habits, an expectation from businesses to reduce their plastic packaging, a push to reuse and recycle products rather than buying new ones and innovation to improve the packaging, transportation and life span of products.

The future of home cooking

What does all this mean going forward for consumers and the food industry? 

The strain on people’s finances and shopping budgets are starting to show, with 57% of people asked reducing their spending according to the Bank of England. Previous recessions have resulted in more home-cooking as a way of saving money and this is no exception. While hygiene is some concern, 49% of those buying fewer deliveries based it purely on a desire to cook more at home. 

Lockdown has transformed many people’s views on their own work-life balance, with Mintel reporting, “The majority of people in the UK are actively seeking ways to reduce stress, and a healthier commute or homeworking could help reduce those 12.8M working days lost each year to stress, anxiety, and depression.” As such, we expect priorities across multiple sectors to shift to spending more time working from home instead of tackling long, busy commutes. This change in priorities and working style is set to continue to shape new terms of employment, as many businesses have found the previous limitations that restricted working from home no longer apply and so fewers days need to be spent physically in the office. When a sense of normality eventually returns, and it is safe to go back to the office, we expect to see a more permanent shift towards flexibility and remote working. 

With it looking like more people will be permanently spending more time at home under new flexible work patterns, it can be assumed the boom of home cooking is also set to continue. A study by The GlobalWebIndex found that of those who visited restaurants regularly pre-outbreak, 41% now plan on doing this less, and 31% say they’ll order in more. 

In summary, it appears that at least until COVID-19 no longer poses a threat to society, eating in will continue to be the new dining out, flexitarian diets are on the rise, meat consumption is down and there is never an excuse to throw away overly-ripe bananas. With new recipes and easy to follow cooking guides appearing online every day, people will never be short of inspiration for whipping up something tasty and putting the pots and pans in their kitchens to good use, sharpening their culinary skills and creating new favourite dishes they can make for years to come.