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The Inflation Diet: Increase in Brits eating expired food, while half turn to cheaper foods to beat cost of living crunch

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  • In a potential effort to stretch their pound, 67% of Brits are eating foods past their expiration and 'use-by' dates
  • Consumers divided on 'shrinkflation' versus cost increases, while Brits throw away an average of 2.45 grocery items every week
  • New poll also finds alcohol (57%) is one of the hardest hit categories for penny pinching during this cost of living crisis
With food prices recently hitting a 40 year high in the UK, British consumers are not only experiencing a monumental drain on their purse strings, but also a fundamental shift in their everyday diets.

Attest, a consumer research platform for the world's biggest and fastest-growing brands, surveyed 1,000 nationally representative UK consumers on how their grocery shopping has changed due to inflation. The latest edition of the Attest's UK Food & Beverage Report 2022 uncovers:

  • Anxiety is dictating the grocery list: 42% of Brits report sticking to a strict budget when they go to the supermarket, likely caused by an average weekly grocery spend that has increased by over £8 due to inflation. While Brits were spending an average of £59.16 per week on groceries six months ago, they're now spending £67.56 according to Attest's findings.
  • People are skimping on food: 34% of respondents are buying less food due to rising costs, rising to 39% for people aged 35-44. This could make a bad situation worse ––  with nearly two million people in the UK undernourished, according to The Food Foundation.
  • Worse overall health could be inflation's legacy: Consumers are largely switching to cheaper foods (51%) – notorious for lesser health benefits and lower-quality ingredients. 18% of people are also buying less fresh fruit and vegetables. These dietary changes could negatively impact the public's overall health, and be a blow to the ongoing fight against obesity.

More Brits are now eating expired food
One trend revealed by this research is an increasing willingness from consumers to make their own judgement calls when it comes to expiration and 'use-by' dates - labels often criticised for being arbitrary and contributing to food waste.

  • Two-thirds admit to eating past the expiration date: The poll finds 67% admitting to eating foods after their expiration date. Interestingly, of these people, 18% of people say they only recently began eating expired foods, adding to the 49% of consumers who’ve done this for a while. Meanwhile, 53% of people say they will even go as far as removing "bad bits" from food so it can still be eaten.
  • Dry foods are most trusted: The food most likely to be eaten past expiration is crisps/snacks (64%) followed by biscuits/sweets (60%) and cereal (54%). More than half (54%) say they would eat bread after it had expired but only 29% would consume milk beyond its expiration date. Least likely to be eaten after expiry are cooked meat and uncooked meat, yet one in five are still willing to roll the dice on these foods (at 23% and 21% respectively).

Consumers are drinking less and forgoing packaged, convenience foods
When polled on what categories they are cutting back on to stave off extra costs, most Brits are unsurprisingly skipping the gourmet food aisle and nixing luxury/premium food items (70%). However, Brits are also purchasing less:

  • Alcohol (57%): A close second to luxury/premium items is alcohol, pointing to a country prioritising putting food on the table rather than alcohol.
  • Convenience foods (42%): Grab-and-go, packaged items are also top of people's cost cutting drive, meaning Brits are likely eating less preservatives from processed foods.

Brits are still throwing away food
Despite a rise in cost, the public is still leaning into one of their worst habits – food waste. The Attest data shows that Brits throw away an average of 2.45 unconsumed/partially consumed groceries every week.

Younger consumers are the worst culprits for food waste, while those in the 55-64 age range are especially good at minimising waste. Nearly 45% of people in this older age group say they don't throw away any edible waste per week in comparison to just 9% of those aged 18-24.

Major takeaways for brands & retailers

  • Discount retailers are winning: 39% of consumers have changed where they shop in the last six months, with the number of Brits shopping at discounters like Aldi and Lidl increasing from 24% six months ago to 39% today.
  • Online food shopping sees a steep decline: Another trend impacting retailers is the post-pandemic return to brick and mortar stores and decline in online food shopping. In January 2021, 31% of Brits shopped for groceries mostly or only online – today, that figure has dropped to 11%. Meanwhile the number of people who shop only in-store has more than doubled, rising from 22% to 46%.
  • Public divided over 'shrinkflation': A majority of UK consumers would rather brands reduce product size instead of increasing prices, but it is a divisive issue. 'Shrinkflation' is favoured by 58%, versus 42% who would accept a price rise that maintains a product's current size.

Jeremy King, CEO and Founder of Attest, said of the research: "The Attest research shows that the British consumer has been backed into a corner and forced to adapt during this cost of living crisis. Surprising new behaviours, like cutting back on alcohol and turning a blind eye to expiry and 'use-by' dates, highlight just how willing people are to make drastic lifestyle changes to cut costs."

"For brands and retailers, this is a crucial moment to keep an open conversation with consumers, especially around ‘skrinkflation’, as the public have shown they are ready to abandon the products and stores they once frequented to protect their wallets."