At the start of the year, we took an in-depth look at how the pandemic changed our attitudes to spending, eating and cooking with a huge surge in home cooking. Here, Innovation Director at The English Provender Company – Kate Sayers – revisits this with a fresh look at the current market to see if these were temporary behavioural shifts, or more of a long-term response to managing our diets, budgets and health by cooking at home.
The rise of home-cooking
In March 2020, a significant proportion of the country started working from home, went on Furlough, or became 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 planned 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
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.
It would seem the pandemic has focused our attention on a continued drive for better health, or at least a more balanced view (because there’s definitely an air of ‘life is short’ on the tails of that)!
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.
While climate crises continue and we remain more fixated on health, the trend for plant-based alternatives continues. The Vegan Society also said: 54% of Brits revealed they’d bought meat alternatives for the first-time during lockdown with an impressive 78% saying they will continue to buy them again in future. So, it seems plant-based is perfectly suited to post-pandemic life.
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. When restaurants were closed, many of us sought to experiment with new flavours that distract from the fact they couldn’t go out.
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 2020 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.
Baking too is here to stay, with The Grocer reporting that 56% of 1000 respondents to a Lumina Intelligence survey said they agreed, or strongly agreed that they would bake more regularly post-pandemic.
The pandemic 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. This trend is set to continue, with a survey conducted by sustainable London-based meal kit company Mindful Chef finding 7 in 10 customers stated that they would continue using the service after the pandemic.
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 during the pandemic saw 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.
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 have prevailed and further action will take place to reduce the negative impact of human consumption on the world, especially following COP 26 which raised further environmental action needed to tackle climate change. 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.
Lockdown 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 we predicted, priorities across multiple sectors have shifted to spending more time working from home instead of tackling long, busy commutes. This change in priorities and working style is set to continue long into the future, having shaped new terms of employment as many businesses have found the previous limitations that restricted working from home no longer apply and so fewer days need to be spent physically in the office.
Now that restrictions have eased and we’ve been flocking back to eateries, it does seem like there’s likely to be some reduction in the amount of home-cooking we all do, but the patterns of behaviour we adopted in lockdown won’t all be so quick to shift. Healthy, sustainable cooking is here to stay, baking’s popularity hasn’t waned and even if we look for convenience, we’re still seeking the thrill of cooking ourselves. This is evidenced by the continued rise of meal box subscriptions like Hello fresh. In Q1 of this year, the business had already risen from 4.8 million to an incredible 7.3 million customers, with revenue up 116.1 percent year-on-year. The company delivered 162 million meals in the third quarter, which is a 135.1% increase on the same period in 2019.
With Covid still rumbling on, some of these patterns look set to continue into 2022. Speak to our team today if you’d like more insight and tips on catering to changing consumer needs.