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The cost of a healthy food basket in Northern Ireland in 2020

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Safefood and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSA) carried out research to estimate the cost of a food basket that is nutritionally adequate, realistic and acceptable for four low income household types in Northern Ireland (NI) in 2020.


This is the fourth study to establish the cost of a food basket that meets the Minimal Essential Standard of Living (MESL) in NI. The FSA has a role in monitoring food poverty in NI, of which this research forms an important part.  

The findings support the work of the All-Island Food Poverty Network, which FSA in NI co-chairs in partnership with Safefood. This network brings together government partners, academia and voluntary sector organisations who have a common interest in reducing food poverty on the island of Ireland. This facilitates a co-ordinated and strategic approach to tackling food poverty through the development of consensus on related issues, collaboration and shared learning

Research approach

The MESL research applies a methodology known as ‘Consensual Budget Standards’. 

This approach is consumer-led rather than expert-led. Food menus meeting the MESL, while also meeting nutritional needs, were developed by engaging with consumers through multiple, deliberative focus groups and iterative in-depth discussions. These discussions resulted in a negotiated agreement on what people regard as essential for a socially acceptable minimum standard of living. 

An MESL is based on needs, not wants. It is a standard of living which people should not be expected to live below. 
This report presents the cost of the minimum essential food basket for four low-income household types, adjusted to reflect food costs in 2020.
The baskets (first established for 2014 and 2016) are adjusted to 2020 prices using the United Kingdom Consumer Price Index.   

Key findings 

The research shows: 

  • Some families on a low income need to spend between a quarter (24%) and almost half (46%) of their take home income to afford a basic food basket that is acceptable and meets nutritional needs. 
  • Food costs were highest for the household with an adolescent, costing approximately one third more than a similar household with younger children. 


The Consumer Council has produced a short film ‘Hand to Mouth’ to accompany the Minimum Essential Food Basket research, which explores the difficulties people can face accessing a healthy, affordable and enjoyable diet on a limited budget.  


What is the cost of a healthy food basket in Northern Ireland in 2020?