Bites of Ireland: food surveys since 2001 show how the country has changed

Bord Bia reports paint a picture of Ireland’s roller-coaster ride over the last two decades

The number of people buying organic food is increasing. Photograph: iStock

The number of people buying organic food is increasing. Photograph: iStock

 

When it comes to making serious cash out of food, the key is to be in at the start of a trend rather than the end. It might not be wise to be the last doughnut seller to open on a busy city centre street. And it’s almost laughable to be thinking about adding avocado toast to your brunch menu today when everyone knows that the cool kids have been shovelling green gunk on to brown bread and selling it for €10 a slice for months.

Canny food types keen to make a few bob by being ahead of the game will probably be paying close attention to an exhaustive report to be published by Bord Bia tomorrow that will highlight Irish food attitudes and point to shopping and cooking trends.

This year’s report tells us meal kits are set to be a big deal in the years ahead

But if you want to have a jump on them, we have been given an advance copy of the document.

The research is published every couple of years. This year’s tells us meal kits are set to be a big deal in the years ahead. “People are telling our researchers that they are more interested in scratch cooking than ever before, but they also say they don’t have the time to actually cook,” says David Deeley of Bord Bia’s Insight’s team, which pulled the Periscope report together.

“Countries such as the United States and Japan are far more advanced when it comes to meal kits, and we think that in the next five years it will be a big thing in Ireland too,” he continues. “It might not be mass-market and it might be confined to urban centres, but delivering meal kits to people could take off in a big way.”

What’s a meal kit?

Pricewatch has to stop him at this point to say we have no real notion what a meal kit is.

Deeley explains: the report shows that 77 per cent of Irish consumers buy foods that are easy to prepare and 69 per cent go for foods that are quick to cook. Almost 50 per cent of consumers regularly eat ready meals.

But while such ready meals sell well, they don’t necessarily make people feel good about themselves: 40 per cent of those polled told researchers they believed ready meals were made with poor-quality ingredients and only 31 per cent believed they were good value for money.

This is where meal kits delivered to your door come in. Such kits take the hassle out of buying and prepping ingredients. All the end user has to do is throw everything together for a home-cooked (sort of) meal in minutes.

Such a development might boost the typical Irish consumer’s confidence in the kitchen, and the report suggests they do need some help in that regard. While Irish consumers are becoming steadily sure of themselves in the kitchen, the numbers who say they can actually cook are surprisingly low.

Irish people view cooking very differently depending on the day of the week

When asked if they would enjoy hosting a dinner party at which they did all the cooking only 19 per cent of people agreed and only 35 per cent said they could produce “a good Sunday roast with all the trimmings” – down from 41 per cent two years ago.

It also shows that Irish people view cooking very differently depending on the day of the week. Less than 20 per cent said they liked cooking during the week and an only slightly more impressive 27 per cent said they enjoyed cooking at the weekend.

When it comes to cooking from scratch, 47 per cent of those polled said they did it at least once a day, compared with just 35 per cent in 2005 while 22 per cent said they cooked from scratch a “few times a week”.

“One of the things to clearly emerge from the report is that Irish people are more and more interested in scratch cooking and we think we could get that number higher, but a lot of people just don’t have the time, so what we need to do is work out what products they need,” Deeley says.

Pricewatch takes issue with this. We don’t believe cooking has to take up a lot of time and reckon some people use time-poverty as an excuse. Deeley takes issue with us taking issue with the report. “Tell that to a working parent on a tight budget who has four kids to pick up from school and ferry to training or whatever,” he says. “They might disagree with you.”

Fair enough.

Bites of Ireland

Apart from cooking habits, the reports contain interesting nuggets that paint a picture of Ireland’s roller-coaster ride over the last two decades.

These reports date from 2001 and indicate that, during the good times, Irish consumers didn’t really give a rashers about price and anyone bringing their lunch to work was looked on as an oddball. While we knew we were being ripped off by retailers, we didn’t seem to care all that much – or we certainly didn’t care enough to actually do anything about it.

Then the crash came and everything changed. People started focusing on price, eating out was out and discounters were in. People starting bringing packed lunches to work, a trend that has persisted.

The report also shows that Irish people have a pleasing attraction to the kitchen, with 74 per cent of those polled telling researchers they eat their main meal in either a kitchen or a breakfast room. A further 20 per cent eat in a room where the main TV is based – and possibly switched on – while only 5 per cent regularly eat in a dedicated dining room.

The price of products is less important for more people now than it was at the height of the economic unpleasantness

We were also struck by a figure that suggested 74 per cent of people agreed with the statement “I like to try new foods”. This was down from 80 per cent in 2007. What accounts for this drop?

Deeley has a theory. “One of the benefits of the report is that we have been tracking consumers since 2001, so we can really point to changes which have taken place,” he says. “And I think one of the reasons we seem less adventurous is because when they are answering that question people are not including all the things they have already tried, so for instance sushi might not be new food for many people today but it was in 2007.”

The report also suggest the price of products is less important for more people now than it was at the height of all the economic unpleasantness and the results in relation to value and price sensitivity suggest a softening of the desire to focus on price. The proportion who look for price as a priority to 52 per cent now compared with 64 per cent in 2013.

There is also a slight reduction in the amount of time we spend time looking for a bargain compared with recent surveys. While on balance, grocery shoppers still maintain they are spreading their shopping more to get the best value, a greater proportion than ever before are doing this less often.

Deeley does not think Irish consumers are in danger of becoming complacent, however. “I think if anything we are more price aware now and maybe people are used to price checking so much that they can almost do it without thinking, I think we are much better equipped as consumers now.”

Green consciousness

The Bord Bia report suggests that we are slowly waking up to the environmental impact of our purchasing decisions, with 61 per cent saying they are more conscious of such issues when shopping,, up from 56 per cent a decade ago.

It also suggests that 55 per cent would prefer to buy from companies that are aware of environmental issues while the importance of country of origin has climbed to 78 per cent now, compared with 69 per cent in 2005.

All told, 88 per cent of consumers are aware of the term “food waste”, and 45 per cent say they are concerned by the amount of food they throw away.

A further 70 per cent say they are aware of food miles compared with just 44 per cent a decade ago, and 56 per cent say they know what “sustainably produced” means, up from 41 per cent in 2008. While the trajectory is promising, it is still a very long way off Spain, Germany or the Netherlands, where awareness tops 90 per cent.

And in news that will shock no one, the majority of parents claim they try to make sure their children have a balanced diet but about 40 per cent say they find it difficult to get their children to eat vegetables.

Almost half claim they are confused about what to eat to stay healthy

What is, perhaps, more surprising is the fact that fewer parents than ever appear concerned about their children becoming obese; 21 per cent of parents expressed concert their children were or were becoming obese, compared with 35 per cent in 2007.

Consumers seem concerned with labels and information and almost half claim they are confused about what to eat to stay healthy, although we are less likely to assume that a “low fat” label is automatically the healthier choice and the incidence of checking for sugar content is at a higher level than checking for “low fat”.

The number of people buying organic food is increasing, with 71 per cent saying they have bought organic compared with 40 per cent in 2003 and 66 per cent in 2011. When it comes to organic, vegetables, fruit, poultry, yogurt and beef are the five most likely products to be bought.

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