The UK’s Food Habits: Then VS Now

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For 25 years we’ve been cooking up a storm in our on-board restaurants, serving tasty, seasonal dishes that always hit the spot.

As a nation, we have a diverse repertoire when it comes to food and our restaurants certainly reflect this. The UK welcomes dishes and ingredients from all around the world; Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese; the list is exhaustive.

It’s fair to say that the nation’s taste buds have developed over time; we haven’t always had access to such a broad range of food.

To explore exactly how much our food habits have changed, we’ve analysed data collected by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through their annual Family Food Survey, dating back to 1974.

Just how much have our taste buds changed in 33 years? 

The Great British classics

Some of the traditional British favourites are losing favour or being replaced by other options.

Beans on toast

Beans on toast is a humble favourite. However, it’s in decline. The amount of baked beans purchased per person each week has fallen from 100g in 1974 to 83g in 2015, that’s a decrease of 17%.

In 1974, an average person purchased 860g of white bread every week. That equates to just over one loaf of Warburton’s medium white bread. In comparison, we now buy just 221g per person, which equates to just 5 and a half slices of bread.

Is Britain cutting carbs altogether? One explanation is that we are actually swapping white bread for brown bread. Since 1974 the consumption of brown bread has increased by 76.54%.

Bacon Sandwich

Everyone loves bacon, right? Well actually, according to statistics our obsession with bacon is under threat. In 1974 an average person bought 116g of bacon every week, roughly 6 rashers. Now, we eat just over 2 rashers each week, 46.55% less than 1974. Perhaps the bacon sandwich is now a guilty pleasure that only features at the weekend?

Sunday dinner

Sunday is one of the best and busiest days to be aboard Bateaux London. Down in the galley of our boat you will find a crew of dedicated and talented chefs preparing one of the finest Sunday Dinners in London. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s no ordinary Sunday Dinner aboard our evening sailing. Serving only the finest Modern British cuisine, you’ll find a reinvention of the traditional fused with fresh and sustainable ingredients.

So have British Sunday Dinner dining habits changed in the same way that we’ve had to adapt our menu to meet consumer demand? Let’s find out.

Roast beef is thought to be the most British meat for Sunday dinner. In 1974, 189g of beef was purchased by the average person each week, with beef joints being the most popular cut. Now, we buy 103g of beef per person, a 45.5% decrease. Now, chicken is the meat of choice, with consumption per person increasing by 60% since 1974.

Price increases may influence our choices. Since 2007, the price of beef has risen by 55% and purchases per household has fallen by 18.7%. In comparison, while the price of poultry has increased by 20%, purchases per household have only fallen by 8.1%.

So, what green vegetables accompanied roast beef in 1974? Well, cabbage was the vegetable of choice, with the average person eating 129g each week. Another favourite vegetable in 1974 was the humble carrot. The carrot is still one of the most popular vegetables, and we now buy 14.94% more of them each year.

Tea

Tea or coffee, sir? It’s a question you will hear cheerfully if you decide to join us for an afternoon tea sailing. In our opinion, a nice cup of tea can solve anything if you’re British. However, we are no longer living up to our national tea drinking stereotype. Now, the average person buys 64.70% less tea than they did in 1974. Instead, coffee is continuing to grow in popularity, threatening the longstanding tea bag. From 1974 to 2015, the nation’s coffee purchases increased by 16.67%.

great British classics change 1974-2017

Making healthy choices: Then VS Now

Now more than ever, we find ourselves bombarded with dietary advice. But has a heightened awareness of what is good for us and what is bad influenced our food choices?

It’s clear from looking at the data that in some cases we opt for healthier alternatives; we’ve already discovered that white bread has fallen out of favour. Similarly, butter has declined in popularity, falling by 70.75% and finding itself replaced by low/reduced fat spreads. Full fat milk no longer has the nation’s heart and skimmed milks are now the go to choice. Skimmed milks have increased by 22100% since 1974.

So, how do other aspects compare? Are we eating more fruit and vegetables and less junk food?

healthy food choices 1974 to 2017 According to statistics, fruit purchases have risen by 49.52% since 1974. However, this is most likely due to the fact that there is a wider range of items available to buy. The purchase of vegetables has slightly decreased, a 3.24% drop since 1974. The rising cost of fruit and vegetables could be one reason why the UK has not really embraced fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy lifestyle. From 2007 to 2015, the cost of vegetables increased by 17% and the price of fruit by 40%. Can Britain afford to make healthy choices?

Slimming/protein based food, has enjoyed an increase of a whopping 1200%. The growing trend of protein powders and shakes is likely to contribute to the continual growth of these types of food items.

Although food prices have also increased on junk food items such as crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks, the consumption of these items is more than ever. We now consume 180% more crisps and 3.61% more chocolate. However, our love affair with cakes and biscuits has wavered, with purchases decreasing on these particular items. 

On balance, it is fair to say that while we are all very aware of what a healthy lifestyle entails, it is not reflected in the nation’s food choices.

So, why is this?

Convenience food: Are we lazy when it comes to food?

From analysing the data available, it’s clear that we are a bit lazy when it comes to food preparation; to us, speed is everything. This could help explain why we are a country of junk food lovers.

In 1974, ready meals were not staple items on the shopping list. The average person would buy just 60g of ready meals or convenience food per person every week. Now, a person in the UK buys 287g every week, an increase of 378.33%.

Other items of food such as pizza, pre-cooked rice and pre-cut vegetables have spiked hugely in popularity.  There are a number of factors that could contribute to this. For example, more women are now in work. In 1974, the employment rate for women stood at 55%. The latest figures for 2017 suggest that the employment rate for women is an estimated 72.6%. Traditionally, women would be more likely to prepare and cook evening meals from scratch.

However, too much work and too little time may have turned us into a nation of takeaway lovers. The number of food items purchased from takeaways has increased by 79.01%. As a nation, we love a takeaway pizza- with purchases increasing by 575% since 1974. Takeaway fish items have fallen by 60% suggesting that our beloved fish and chips is no longer a firm favourite.

convenience food 1974 to 2017

Ushering in an era of Fine Dining

As the original and best restaurant on the River Thames since 1992, we like to think we’ve played a key role in introducing and treating guests to the finer foods in life. But are we seeing the wider British public embracing premium food products? Well, the data seems to suggest so. Premium food products like pate (+ 12g), salmon (+13g) and continental Cheese (+2g) have seen remarkably strong growth in the UK food market since 1974. While the growth isn’t as large as say sandwiches or pizza, for expensive niche products like salmon and continental cheese, this is actually quite impressive growth. Premium Foods change 1974 to 2017 It’s not just the finer foods that have seen massive growth in British dining habits either. Premium alcoholic beverages like champagne and wine have seen growth rates of 781% and 161%. That works out as the average British person now consuming nearly 26ml of champagne per week and 206ml of table wine per week.    

Methodology

All statistics that feature in this article have been collaborated using National Food Survey data, an annual survey conducted by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs since 1974. The percentages show the increase/decrease in food consumption rather than food sales. Please note that Bateaux London acknowledges that the information included in this blog is based on their interpretation of the data presented.

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