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.

Survey finds millenials are more attracted to plant-based diets following Covid-19

New research from Mintel has found that 25% of British Millenials say that Covid-19 has made “plant-based diets more appealing” to them, with 12% of all Brits and almost a quarter (22%) of Londoners surveyed saying they would be more interested in adopting a vegan or plant-based diet in the future. Health and nutrition appear to be a more important focus for many in the wake of Covid-19, with 37% of those surveyed saying that Covid-19 has prompted them to add more nutrients to their diets in order to support their immune systems and 23% saying they are eating more fruit and veg since the outbreak. Generation Z (aged 20 and under) (31%) and Millennials (21-40) (27%) are most likely to be focussed on fruit and veg according to the survey. Many beliefs captured by the survey show a focus on ‘optimal health’, with 66% believing that vitamin C can support the immune system and half of Brits believing plant and botanical ingredients can treat ailments. 

New monitoring tool from Public Health England shows changing patterns of grocery shopping

Public Health England have launched a new monitoring tool tracking the wider impacts of COVID-19 on health (WICH), which looks at the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population’s health and wellbeing. One area covered by the tool is changes in grocery purchasing, using data from Kantar. The data shows that the total volume of food and drink purchased has increased by 11.5% year on year, with sales of alcohol increasing by 29.6% and confectionary by almost 20%.  Sales of fruit, veg and salads have increased by a relatively smaller 9.7% (year on year) Across all social classes the number of shopping trips made every week has decreased, while the amount bought during each trip has increased, showing a move towards the weekly shop of old.

CPI data shows overall inflation has increased although retail food prices are slightly down

The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was released today for the month of June. The CPI index, used to monitor inflation, was very slightly up in June compared to May, with The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate at 0.6%, up from 0.5% in May. However, the largest (partially offsetting) downward contribution (of 0.06 percentage points) to the change in the CPIH 12-month inflation rate between May and June came from food and non-alcoholic beverages, with prices falling by 0.6% this year, compared with a rise of 0.1% a year ago. The largest contribution to the price fall came from vegetables. Food Foundation analysis of CPI average retail prices found that prices fell by 1.23% compared to the preceding month, with the average price of iceberg lettuce falling by 13.64% compared to May. Prices of fruit were fairly stable, increasing by 0.66% compared to May. View our tracker here.

Food Foundation analysis sees a second consecutive drop in imports of fruit and veg

Using the Office of National Statistics (ONS) country by commodity trade statistics, we’ve been tracking the month-on-month value of fruit and veg imports into the UK. We’ve focussed on six countries: Spain, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Republic of Ireland, Chile, and Costa Rica which together supplied 63.4% of all UK veg imports and 48.6% of fruit imports in 2018. Data released in July for May show that the value of imports into the UK fell compared to the preceding month. Imports of fruit and veg were down 0.29% as an overall average for the six countries compared to April 2020. This was lower than the amount imported into the UK for this group of countries in the same month during both 2019 and 2018. View our trade tracker here.

Survey finds veg consumption has dropped during lockdown

A survey of 2,000 adults by the food manufacturer Higgidy has found that vegetable consumption in the UK has remained low during lockdown. Although it is not clear from the survey how the findings compare to pre-lockdown veg habits, the survey found that consumption remains low with most eating an average of 2 portions of veg a day. 47% confess they very rarely or never eat five portions a day, with nearly 3% saying they do not eat any vegetables. Nearly half (44%) of respondents reported trying to eat more healthily during lockdown, although 18% said they’d eaten more comfort food and takeaways than normal throughout the pandemic.

WHO reveals fresh record rise in Covid-19 cases worldwide 

Although cases of Covid-19 continue to decline in the UK, globally the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. The World Health Organization reported another record in the daily increase of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday; with over 230,000 fresh cases reported. According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, this takes the total official tally to close to 12.9 million cases worldwide with 568,296 deaths. 

Kantar data shows we are buying more calories

Data from Kantar tracking consumer purchases and shopping habits shows that in addition to take-home grocery sales of food and drink increasing during lockdown, the quantity of calories bought has also increased. Food and drink sales grew by 13% in the 12 weeks to June 2020 compared with a year ago, while total calories purchased increased by 17%. This means the calorie-density of average baskets has increased by 3.7%, reversing the trend seen over the last few years, which showed a gradual decline in calorie density. The biggest increases in calories bought are in households with children and retired households, with the highest and lowest income groups (class AB and class E) seeing the biggest increases. In terms of what is driving the increase in calories, foods high in fat have proved particularly popular during lockdown and beyond. The fat content of baskets has risen by 4.7%, largely driven by the increase in sales of dairy products, fresh meat, ice cream and confectionery. There have also been large increases in sodium, with the average salt content of baskets increasing by 6.2%. Although protein and fibre have also increased, these have done so by a much smaller amount. Interestingly, Kantar have pointed to purchasing trends mirroring the different stages of the pandemic. Initially snacking increased, particularly salty snacks, confectionery, biscuits and fizzy drinks, however, during May this trend declined with health more often cited as a driver of purchasing decisions. Kantar now expect this to stall as the economic recession starts to bite.


Most Britons uncomfortable about dining out 

A survey undertaken by the Office of National Statistics has found that many Brits remain uncomfortable at the thought of dining out following the reopening of the restaurant and pub sector on July 4th. Only two-in-10 of the 1,788 adults surveyed in England, Scotland and Wales said they would be happy to have a sit-down meal as restrictions ease. 60% said they would be uncomfortable or very uncomfortable eating indoors during the pandemic. Those over 70 were most wary. It remains to be seen whether sentiments will change in light of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the transition back towards some sort of normality.