But behind the scary sound bites lies a story of canny consumers shopping and cooking more wisely, cutting expenditure but not sacrificing standards.Take waste. Consumers recognise that waste is a big issue. In a recent Institute of Grocery Distribution survey, waste was cited by consumers as their major environmental concern. Whilst they raged against food companies for not selling smaller packs, and using cut price promotions to encourage buying too much, consumers acknowledged that they themselves cause much waste through lack of planning, and not paying enough attention to using leftovers.
And there is considerable scope to reduce waste. According to WRAP, in 2009 UK households generated £12 billion of avoidable food and drink waste, or about £480 per year for the average household. To put into context, DEFRA estimates that households spend around £125 billion each year on food and drink, so if WRAP figures are anything like accurate we waste about 10% of what we buy.As to what is being wasted, WRAP estimates that £6.7bn goes on food and drink thrown away untouched or started but not finished. Examples are fresh fruit and vegetables (£1.4bn), bread and bakery products (£1.1bn), milk (£280m), yoghurts past their sell by date, and unused slices of bacon. A further £4.8bn is wasted on food and drink where too much has been prepared, cooked or served.
Still on the waste theme, there is evidence of shoppers spending less merely by refusing to shop impulsively and throw something into the trolley just because they like the idea.Shopping at discounters is seen another way of spending less, and according to Kantar sales of ALDI and LIDL continue to grow at a clip, the former recording a growth of 24% in the last three months compared with the previous year. And sensible use of promotional offers is another well tried method of reducing spend.
Interestingly though, as Kantar points out, consumers’ food choices are not only about price. In the last 3 months sales of budget own label lines grew by just 2%, compared with an 8% growth in sales of premium own label products. So premium foods are by no means dead, but they do have to offer that elusive combination of quality and value to justify their price.
Shoppers have the scope to reduce spend and in the current economic climate will continue to do so. We can expect more years of cutbacks, especially on what could be described as poor value, over processed or not strictly necessary.By contrast, spend on staples should continue to hold up. Despite the pressures, sales of beef, pork, bacon, sausages, milk and cheese have all shown volume growth in the last year. Consumers clearly see them as necessary, and, critically, fairly priced.