How coronavirus changed the way we eat

Find out more about how the recent pandemic has had an influence on the way we eat and the effects of lockdown for consumers.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact of our lives although one thing remains constant: food. We all still need to eat! However, what we eat and where we eat it has changed. Here are a few reasons why.

Eating more meals at home

In mid-March, the Government ordered restaurants and cafes to close. Schools, non-essential retail and many other workplaces closed too, and we all began to spend a lot more time at home. This meant the number of meals eaten in the home increased significantly, and therefore so did demand for groceries.

Supermarkets plan their stock levels very carefully based on normal demand, so they to keep up with extra demand in the early stages of the lockdown leading to empty shelves. With a little bit of time, they were able to adapt their supply chains and now supermarkets have good availability for nearly all products.

With more time on their hands, consumers spent more time baking and cooking from scratch during lockdown. Sales of some products, such as butter, cream and flour, were boosted strongly, as well as beef mince and sausages, which feature in some of Britain’s favourite home-cooked meals.  Other foods, such as lamb, have not done so well. Lamb sales usually spike around Easter when some people enjoy a traditional Easter roast.  Under lockdown, families couldn’t travel to eat together and older people, who eat the most lamb, were particularly affected by advice to self-isolate.

Matching supply to demand

When demand changes, some food producers can adjust their supply quite quickly, particularly if their product can be stored for a long time. Other foods, like milk, take longer to adjust. When restaurants and coffee shops closed, the amount of milk being produced suddenly exceeded the amount of milk being consumed and we even saw a small amount of milk being thrown away.

This meant that dairy processors (who turn the milk from farms into dairy products for consumption) had to ask some farmers to reduce the amount of milk they were producing. By changing the food they gave to their cows, or milking them less often, farmers were able to bring down milk volumes and reduce the pressure on the market, while maintaining the health and welfare of their cows.

Other products were affected too, particularly those which rely on restaurants and takeaways. Many takeaways and fish and chip shops closed under lockdown which left farmers and potato traders with too many chipping potatoes in their stores. Some outlets have begun to reopen although their capacity is reduced as customers have to observe social distancing. As further lockdown restrictions are lifted, there are hopes that trade will pick up, helping to use up the potatoes in store before they spoil and fresh new-crop becomes available.

The long term

The effects of lockdown on our eating habits probably won’t last forever. As more people go back to work and restaurants begin to open, we will start to return to our old habits. However, some behaviours might continue. For instance, online shopping has become much more popular under lockdown, gaining more new shoppers in 2020 than it did in the previous five years. Some shoppers may enjoy the convenience and continue to shop online after lockdown is lifted.

Restaurants and pubs are expected to start opening from 4 July. However, they will have to follow strict COVID-19 guidelines to enable them to operate safely and in many cases, this will mean they are able to serve fewer customers. As we enter a recession, financial worries will also prevent some consumers from eating out as much as they did before lockdown. As a result, we’re likely to continue to see lots of meals eaten in the home and shoppers may become more price-conscious.


Supporting resources

14 - 16 YR
Meat and the consumer presentation

A presentation about meat and the consumer.

14 - 16 YR
Meat and the consumer worksheet

A worksheet looking at red meat.

14 - 16 YR
Being an effective consumer Scotland

A presentation looking at being an effective consumer.

14 - 16 YR
Being an effective consumer Northern Ireland

A presentation looking at being an effective consumer.

14 - 16 YR
Being an effective consumer England and Wales

A presentation looking at being an effective consumer.

14 - 16 YR
Using leftovers

A presentation looking at using leftovers.

14 - 16 YR
Resource management

A presentation looking at resource management.

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