Lockdown eating habits

A nation of cooks?

Lockdown is changing how we eat and shop, beyond the familiar stories of baking craze driven flour shortages and empty pasta shelves. Senior Planner Gideon Aroussi shares insights from our latest food & drink research, revealing key shifts in consumer behaviour.

For four years, Bray Leino has tracked UK shoppers’ attitudes and behaviour around food and drink, publishing our findings in our annual Food & Drink Report. Our 2020 fieldwork coincided with the introduction of the Covid-19 lockdown, providing an opportunity to check in on consumer habits during these unusual times. The findings reveal some significant changes, affecting both how we shop and how we cook. 

Waste not, want not

‘Nipping to the shop’ is no longer an everyday option and item stocks are running low, so it’s no surprise that food waste has become a major concern. What is interesting is just how many people report a change in attitude: a whopping 59% of consumers say they are now ‘more careful about food waste’, with women more likely to agree with this statement than men. Last year’s findings highlighted men as major culprits in food waste, so the gender split persists.

The rise of home cooking

Lockdown has led to an overwhelming rise in home cooking: 55% say they are ‘cooking more from scratch as I’m spending more time at home’. Interestingly, the group most likely to agree with this statement is 18-34-year-olds. The 2019 Food & Drink Report identified this group as most likely to eat fast food and use ready meals, so we’re seeing a huge behaviour shift. Whether this will translate into something more long-term remains to be seen, but for the immediate there’s a new demographic of home cooks. However, not all 18-34s have made this shift, with others shifting further towards convenience, as we’ll explore shortly.

Consumers from ABC1 social classes are also more likely to have increased scratch cooking, which could be a function of their greater likelihood to have an office-based job that allows them to work from home and dedicate more time to meal preparation.

Bulk buying culprits

The onset of coronavirus saw plentiful news stories about panic buying, with tinned and dried food prominent targets alongside toilet roll, however 54% of our consumers say they are buying the same amount they usually would. 28% say ‘I’m bulk buying’, with some interesting revelations in terms of demographics. Men are significantly more likely to bulk buy than women, but the biggest differences are seen by age. Whereas 40% of 18-34s said they are bulk buying, only 17% of those aged 55+ said the same. It might be that for many young adults this is the first real crisis they’ve had to deal with, whereas older people have seen enough to know not to panic. Whatever the reason, the research suggests younger people are the driving force behind the empty shelves.

The convenience consumers

We also see some real demographic differences when it comes to easy food, with men somewhat living up to easy stereotypes. Men are significantly more likely than women to agree ‘I am buying more frozen foods’, 'I'm cooking more meals using tinned and dry ingredients’, 'I'm having more ready meals’ and 'I'm having more takeaways and meals delivered’. 18-34s are also more likely to agree with all those statements than older adults, perhaps seeking to replace meals they'd normally eat out.

During these unusual times, it’s tempting to jump on what’s new and different, but 45% of our respondents agree that ‘It’s made no difference to what I'm eating at home’. Given the differences we’ve seen so far by age, it’s no surprise that this attitude is more prominent amongst those 55+. More people from social grades C2DE agreed with it than ABC1’s, again possibly a reflection of the increased number of office workers now based at home changing their habits. School closures would explain why significantly more respondents without children also agreed with this statement.

Overall, older adults are least changed by lockdown; men appear more inclined towards previously existing bad habits; and 18-34s are split between convenience-seekers and those taking the opportunity to cook more.

Time will tell whether our weeks at home result in permanent behaviour changes or the ‘new normal’ turns out to be the same as the old normal. For now, brands should stay alert and flexible, to best respond to changes as they happen. Not even the government knows what or when these changes will be, how gradually lockdown will end and what impact it will have on people’s habits and lives. Whether it’s caused a boom or setback for your business, you will need to manage change.

How can Bray Leino help?

The above is a taster of our 2020 food and drink research. For the full 2020 Food & Drink Report, or to learn how we can help your brand navigate a challenging market, contact Austen Donnellan, Business Development Director.


With 25 years in the business, Gideon started his career in market research before moving into account planning. His 17 years at Bray Leino have covered a range of sectors and, notably, many food and drink Clients.

Read more in our Bitesize thought leadership series here.

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