The Big Picture

How is COVID-19 affecting how we feed ourselves?

COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the UK food system. To understand what this will mean for citizens, we’ll be monitoring trajectories for these variables:

  • Infection and mortality rates – how will infection and vaccine developments unfold, and will these be mirrored in food system changes?
  • Civil cohesion and food poverty – will we see civil unrest if people struggle to afford food and prices rise?
  • Food prices – how will supply chains be affected; will export bans lead to price rises and shortages; will domestic production increase and will average prices of fruit, vegetables and other staple foods increase as a result?
  • Fruit and vegetable sales

Follow system-wide developments here as we track shifting challenges and demands, and look at how coronavirus-driven change is reflected in the food system.

Return to our homepage to view the COVID-19 Tracker in full.

Mintel survey finds people are eating more tinned food, more fruit and veg, and more vegan food during lockdown

A survey of 2,000 UK adults has found a number of changes in eating behaviour and attitudes during lockdown. 12% of Brits said they were now more attracted to a vegan diet since the beginning of the pandemic, rising to 22% of Londoners. 23% said they were eating more fruit and veg, with two in five believing that people will continue to buy more long-life foods after the pandemic. 17% said they had been eating more tinned food since the start of lockdown (with this figure rising for millenials and Gen Z), 55% said they were cooking more from scratch, and 69% reported wasting less food.

GLOPAN warns of increasing food insecurity in low- and middle-income countries and urges a transformation of food systems

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition has released a policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on food systems globally, focussing on low- and middle-income countries. The brief notes how the responses adopted by most countries have contributed to multiple shocks occurring at the same time throughout the global food system, with food production and processing, transport, trade and retail all profoundly affected as a result. The brief warns that food insecurity is likely to increase as a result, and urges governments to act so that equity in access to healthy and sustainable diets are embedded much more firmly in food system strategies, as well as enhanced resilience to shocks.

Global survey on eating and activity patterns during lockdown shows negative health impacts

The results of a large international online survey in April 2020 have been published, finding that health promoting behaviours have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic globally. The survey was undertaken in in seven languages by 35 research organisations from Europe, North-Africa, Western Asia and the Americas, and looked at the behavioural and lifestyle changes of Covid-19 lockdown and distancing restrictions. The study found that lockdown has had a negative effect on physical activity levels with the amount of time spent sitting each day increasing from five to eight hours. People reported eating less healthy foods, snacking more between meals, and more ‘out of control’ eating during confinement compared to before Covid-19. In terms of eating and drinking habits, only alcohol binge drinking had decreased during lockdown.

A survey of young people’s eating behaviours during lockdown shows Covid19 is affecting from low income families the most

A survey of almost 1,000 young people aged 14-19 by the charities Bite Back 2030 and Guys and St. Thomas’ Charity , has found significant changes in young people’s eating habits and attitudes to food since the start of lockdown. Different experiences were found depending on socio-economic background. The survey found a mix of positive and negative changes in eating behaviour in keeping with other UK surveys released over the past month. A third of teens are now cooking more, with 60% of respondents saying that eating as a family more often has positively impacted on their health and wellbeing during lockdown. 45% of participants said they are now more aware of the injustices that exist in the food system. However, snacking has increased during lockdown, with 63% of those in the lowest income groups reporting snacking more compared to 57% of those in the highest socio-economic bracket. This difference can also be seen in the amount of fruit and veg being eaten, with 40% saying they had eaten more fruit and veg during lockdown for the highest income group compared to 33% for the lowest group. Teenagers were also missing social contact and access to social spaces to socialise.

Revised estimates show the UK economy contracted more than previously thought between January and March

Revised estimates from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that the UK economy contracted more than previously thought between January and March 2020. The economy shrank by 2.2% – a revision of the previous 2% estimate – which is the largest fall since 1979. The new data showed that GDP contracted by 6.9% in March when lockdown was brought in, with the services sector particularly affected.

UK Prime Minister intends to launch new obesity plan  

Boris Johnson is reportedly drawing up a new obesity strategy to try to limit the impact of a potential second wave of Covid-19. The Prime Minister, who had previously criticised interventionist health policies such as ‘sin taxes’, is said to have changed his mind having earlier in the year been admitted to intensive care after contracting Covid-19. With more severe outcomes from Covid-19 associated with obesity, the PM has apparently attributed his own admission to ICU to his weight. The PM is said to be looking at policy options including increasing access to bariatric surgery and exercise schemes, and a ban on price promotions of less healthy foods, although it is not known how much these will differ from those previously laid out in the Childhood Obesity Plan.

Sales of cooking sauces increase as Brits cook more at home

Demand for wine and cooking sauces has soared during lockdown, according to new sales data released by Premier Foods (maker of foods including Mr Kipling cakes and Lloyd Grosman cooking sauces) and Naked Wines. The online wine-seller said revenue surged 81% in April and May after many shops closed on 23rd March. Meanwhile Premier Foods said demand for its pre-made pasta sauces, Bisto and Oxo gravies, and Sharwoods curry condiments had soared.

“One of the most prevalent trends we have seen during the lockdown is that Britain has got cooking again, with particularly high levels of demand for items relating to meal preparation, including cooking sauces, gravy and baking ingredients,” chief executive Alex Whitehouse said.


Food Standards Agency research shows changes in eating and shopping habits during Covid-19


The first results of a rolling consumer survey run by the FSA to track changes in consumer food behaviour during Covid-19 have been released. The survey looked at the period April to May, and found that there has been a move towards purchasing food from local suppliers (35% said they had done so more often, 11% less often) and that people reportedly wasted or threw away food less often (). The number of people who have skipped meals or cut down on meal sizes due to not having enough money remained high but stable between April (18%) and May (16%), with people reportedly buying fewer take-aways overall when compared to before lockdown. Concerns about food safety and hygiene in addition to financial reasons were cited for the drop in takeaway purchases by survey respondents. There appeared to be an increase both for the number of healthy meals eaten and the amount of snacks and confectionary consumed, while the shift towards(for example veg boxes) was associated with those on higher incomes.

British Nutrition Foundation Survey finds disparate responses in eating patterns during lockdown

A survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to coincide with this week’s Healthy Eating week has found a diverse range of responses in eating and exercise patterns in the UK during Covid-19. 2,067 UK adults were surveyed between 3rd – 4th June 2020, with the survey finding that while 27% of respondents feel they have been eating less healthily during lockdown, 50% said their habits have not changed, and 22% say they have been eating more healthily than usual. Among those who reported that they were eating less healthily than before Covid-19, stress, anxiety and boredom were cited as the main reasons for doing so, although 30% said not being able to shop as frequently as they would like had also negatively impacted on their diet. 19% have been getting better at using store cupboard ingredients, and 23% have been trying new recipes, with just 7% of people getting more takeaways.