UK purchasing habits undergo clear shift

Shopping basket with produce

The UK shopper landscape and how we buy groceries has fundamentally changed, according to data presented to Produce Business UK by Kantar Worldpanel UK

Value, eating out and convenience have emerged as clear consumer trends as the UK spends less on food and in different ways.

The percentage of household expenditure spent on food has seen a steady decline, from around 21% in the 1970s to 9% today, while housing and utility costs have risen at the same time,” explains Chris Cowan, Kantar’s consumer insight director.


UK household expenditure on food is just 9%

Household produce spending has declined 4% in volume

Consumers spend only 32 minutes in the kitchen

The eating out market is also shifting spend away from the retail market, according to Kantar, with 17% of eating in the UK taking place outside of the home.

Online shopping is growing at a pace too; accounting for 6% of total grocery sales but 40% of total growth.

Cowan notes that the average UK consumer now shops four times a week; making 228 trips per year and spending roughly £12-13 during each trip.

But although consumers are buying produce just as frequently (still 102 times a year), over the last five years they are buying on average 11kg less in volume every year.

As a result, Kantar believes 28% of the UK produce market is in two or more years of decline, with volume down particularly for potatoes, apples, pears and brassicas, while berries and salads, among the larger categories, have seen volume gains.

Furthermore, Kantar data shows that during the last six months of 2014 people were buying fewer groceries overall.

“It’s not necessarily a long-term trend but it’s difficult to know,” notes Amir Jalaly, fellow consumer insight director at Kantar.

“Prices have gone up and people are cutting back a bit to spend a bit more on luxuries, eating out and other non-food items.”

Meanwhile, as the need for convenience has grown, categories like potatoes, garlic, onions and tomatoes have suffered in particular.

“Meal occasions have changed,” points out Jalaly. “Food is less of a focus as people have moved away from family time. There is more of an individual focus, less planning in cooking, more convenience and more multi-tasking at the same time.” 

According to Kantar data, in 2014 around 60% of all meal occasions in the UK were occupied by just one person, up from 44% in 1980. UK consumers are spending less time in the kitchen too – just 32 minutes in 2014, compared with 60 minutes in 1980.

But, as Jalaly points out, the UK still loves food. “We watch 121 food programmes every year and we own nine recipe books per household,” he states. “We want to create meals but we don’t have the time. One in five eating occasions is now described as a quick, 30-minute bite to eat.”

With that in mind, UK shoppers are now looking for high-value solutions like fresh-prepared food that offers much-needed convenience.

As such, some of Kantar’s clients are moving away from selling lower value ingredients, like whole-head produce like broccoli or whole potatoes, in favour of offering high value ‘dish makers’, such as ready-trimmed broccoli and mashed potato.

“Some carrot and green vegetable suppliers are making juices from their crops to sell to Costa and Prêt a Manger, and others are doing prepared produce,” says Jalaly.

“It diversifies the risk and adds a lot of value since these products cost more. A whole head of broccoli costs £2.14, compared with £3.50 for ready trimmed broccoli, while a whole potato costs £0.84, whereas a mashed potato option is worth £5.20.”

Ultimately, however, Jalaly says it remains very difficult to change consumption habits. “Our number one dish is still the sandwich,” he notes.

“On average we eat 4.2 different evening meals per week and we eat similar meals from week to week,” he notes.

“You can’t easily expand the volume of meals but you can tap into consumption trends. Healthy snacking, for example, is really growing.”

Jalaly says UK consumers also need more inspiration to buy produce and to know what to do with it.

“In the UK, produce is sold as a commodity, not as a solution or an occasion,” he explains. “But consumers need to visualise what they can do with produce; they need some help such as better packaging or signage.”

Jalaly believes the industry needs to collaborate more in order to inspire consumers. “Retailers and suppliers need to come together to take a strategic marketing approach,” he concludes.

Kantar WorldPanel UK is also using its data of 30,000 UK households – the country’s largest shopper panel – to help the fresh produce industry develop tailored marketing initiatives that respond to today’s new shopper landscape.

View Kantar's full report on the evolving UK shopper
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