The monthly tracker monitors attitudes, experiences and behaviours of consumers in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key findings from the COVID-19 Consumer Tracker
Levels of food insecurity dipped in August (to 12% from 16% in July) but increased significantly in September (to 18%) and have remained steady since. In November, 1 in 5 respondents (19%) reported cutting down on meals for financial reasons.
Food insecurity is a particular issue for younger age groups, being experienced by 38% of 16-24 year olds in November, a significant increase since the late summer (22% in August). Those who have been advised to self-isolate, households with a child, and those who have a physical or mental health condition are also more likely to be experiencing food insecurity.
There continues to be a particularly steep age differential in reported food bank or food charity usage, with 26% of 16-24 year olds reporting accessing food in this way in November but only 3% of those aged 45-54. The 16-24 year age group has seen a 3 fold increase since August (9%).
Eating food past use-by dates
A sizeable proportion of people continue to eat more risky foods past their use-by date. In November, this ranged from 20% to 38% among those who had eaten the food in question. Food insecurity is a factor in this behaviour with those who reported cutting the size of their meals or skipping meals due to financial concerns being less likely to report always checking use-by dates (37% compared to 48%).
Prior to the second national lockdown in England, a tenth of respondents said they felt it was safe to eat out in October, continuing a slow but significant upward trend seen since early summer (e.g. July 6%). Around 1 in 5 (21%) reported that they did not intend to eat out in the foreseeable future. This figure was stable across the previous 3 months, following a significant drop in August (to 20%, from 31% in July).
Heather Hancock, Chair at the Food Standards Agency, said:
‘This research is vital in helping us to understand how consumers’ consumption patterns have changed through the pandemic. The FSA exists to protect consumer interests in relation to food, and so we are particularly concerned about what this survey is telling us about household food insecurity.
'As news of vaccines bring some hope, governments in the UK and the private sector must work together to deliver affordable and safe food for the consumer.’
Read the research