Consumer Food Insecurity - What does it mean for food businesses?

New government research shows that one in four people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are food insecure – the highest level since tracking began in 2020. FSA’s flagship survey shows food insecurity continues to rise. But what might this mean for consumer behaviour and the impact on food and agri businesses in this sector?

The latest wave of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Food and You 2 survey, conducted between October 2022 and January 2023, revealed that levels of food insecurity reached 25%, an increase from 16% when the first wave of the study was conducted between July and October 2020.

In simple terms, food insecurity means having limited or uncertain access to adequate food. 

For the first time, the survey asked people to specify what changes they were making to their eating habits for financial reasons.

The findings show that 80% of respondents reported that they had made changes to their eating habits for financial reasons in the previous 12 months. 

The most common changes related to what and where respondents ate, with 46% eating out less; shopping habits, with 42% of people buying items on special offer more; and food preparation, with 29% of people preparing food that could be kept as leftovers more often.

This is likely to cause concern for the hospitality industry that was hard hit by covid. It will also mean increased demand for special offers and basic deals on retail food products, the buy one get one free (BOGOF) aspect would also be utilised but consumers are much more aware of food waste and use by dates.

The research indicated, as expected, that food prices remain the top food-related concern for people (65%), but with food waste only slightly below this (62%), the quality of food (62%), and the amount of food packaging (56%) also featuring amongst the most common concerns when prompted.

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, 75% of respondents were classified as food secure (61% high, 14% marginal) and 25% of respondents were classified as food insecure (12% low, 12% very low). 
  • 78% of respondents who had at least some knowledge of the FSA reported that they trusted the FSA to make sure ‘food is safe and what it says it is’.  
  • 93% of respondents reported that they were confident that the food they buy is safe to eat.  
  • 76% of respondents reported that they had confidence in the food supply chain.  
  • 64% of respondents reported that they always check use-by dates before they cook or prepare food. 

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