Hubbub is asking how we can create a fairer more sustainable UK as we rebuild from the impact of COVID-19.  An immediate impact of the crisis has been on eating habits.  The closing of restaurants, the increased time spent at home and the difficulty in getting hold of some ingredients has changed many things previously taken for granted.

We are convinced that the current UK food system which wastes an estimated 1.9 million tonnes of food every year but where many people are struggling to feed themselves is unsustainable.  How can we change this? What has been the immediate impact of COVID-19? How can we help people have a healthier, less wasteful diet?  To inform these questions we undertook public polling with 2,000 people across the UK asking how COVID-19 has changed their eating habits.  The results reveal a profound impact and a divided nation.

The polling results

We discovered a deeply polarised experience of food across the country. 43% of people said that they are worried about the extra cost of providing food for their household. This rises to 59% of those aged 35-44 and 54% of those aged 25-34.

Compare this with some of the positives we heard from our polling – that 44% of people are enjoying cooking more since the restrictions began and 47% of people are enjoying spending more time eating with their family or housemates. Over a third of people see the lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, rising to almost half amongst 16-24 year olds.

Over half of people are valuing food more with 48% saying they are throwing away less food.  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. 

Shopping habits have shifted, a quarter said they are buying better quality food as they are not going out or spending money on other things. While more than a third 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 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. 

What are the implications of these findings?

Whether food is a worry or a pleasure at the moment, we can safely say that most people are thinking about it more than usual. We’ve grown to rely on convenience and availability of an incredible range of foods in the UK.  Faced with restrictions on what’s available – often the first of their lifetime - many people are now keen to know how to cook, store and make the most of their food.

All sectors have a role in helping people as we shift to a new way of thinking about food.  Providing access to affordable, healthy food for all sections of society is essential.  Cutting waste out of the system is crucial to build resilience.  Building the skills and competence of households to make the most of food will cut waste, help reduce obesity and encourage healthier diets.  How we produce, harvest and distribute food also needs to be re-thought.  We are currently too dependent on imports and the reliance of imported labour to feed the nation.

Hubbub is playing our part in this transition. We are supporting our network of over 90 Community Fridges to redistribute surplus food to vulnerable members of society.  Through Food Savvy we are increasing efforts to share practical information on making food go further using a range of channels, including a series of live, digital workshops.  Please get in touch if you would like to collaborate or attend. 

GET IN TOUCH 

In the next month we will be announcing a new low carbon delivery service taking healthy food directly to vulnerable households and we are hosting a workshop with key influencers to discuss the future of the food system in the UK.  If you would like to get involved in the workshop please email [email protected].   You can read a summary report of our polling below, and also find the full raw polling data here and here.