In Britain’s inflation crisis, healthy diets are a casualty

LONDON, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Fresh vegetables and fish are disappearing from the menu. Packaged pizzas and charcuterie are the daily specials.

Many UK households are turning away from healthier foods as runaway inflation pushes them towards cheaper processed meals, according to consumer data and experts who worry about the nation’s nutritional downfall.

Joanne Farrer regularly served her three children dinners of roast beef or stews filled with fresh vegetables. Now she’s more likely to give them chicken nuggets and fries or sausage and mashed potatoes, which are “cheaper and filling”.

His monthly social allowances are mostly eaten up by rent and the rising cost of gas and electricity.

“There doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel,” said the 44-year-old, who volunteers for a charity in the town of Portsmouth, on England’s south coast.

“You think, when is this going to end? But this is not the case.

As grocery prices rise across the board, the cost of fresh food far exceeds that of processed and packaged goods, according to the UK’s Official Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Prices for fresh vegetables rose around 14% in September compared to the same month last year, for example, while fresh beef also jumped 14%, fish 15%, poultry 17% , eggs 22% and skimmed milk 42%.

Meanwhile, salted or smoked meats like bacon and crisps were up about 12% each, packaged pizzas were up nearly 10%, sweet snacks like gummies were up 6%, and chocolate was up. increased by just over 3%.

Shopping habits are also changing, according to exclusive data from NielsenIQ, which created a basket of 37 food items for Reuters. Volume sales of fresh vegetables fell more than 6% and fresh meat more than 7% in August, for example, while sales of snacks and candy rose nearly 4%.

The data underscores the trend towards processed foods implied by the CPI numbers, which do not include sales, raising red flags for public health advocates.

“There is plenty of evidence that diets low in fruit and vegetables have serious health consequences,” said Shona Goudie, policy research manager at the Food Foundation, a UK charity that promotes healthy diets. healthy.

“We also know that cheap, highly processed foods are most likely to cause obesity.”

Packaged food products often contain unhealthy levels of salt, fat and sugar, as well as flavor enhancers and preservative chemicals to give them a longer shelf life, and are associated with higher risks of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Britain is already at the forefront of an ‘obesity epidemic’ across Europe, where nearly 60% of adults are overweight or obese, raising their risk of premature death and serious illness , according to the World Health Organization report in May.


Fresh foods have become more expensive because their production requires more energy than packaged foods made by consumer goods companies such as Nestlé (NESN.S) and Unilever (ULVR.L)which are also more likely to absorb an impact on margins due to their magnitude.

So far this year compared to last year, the average price of healthier foods like vegetables and fish has risen by more than 8 pounds ($9) per 1,000 kcal in Britain, from around 3 pounds for less healthy foods like bacon and crisps, according to data from the Food Foundation.

For some, the consequences of rising prices are disastrous.

Nearly 10 million adults – or one in five households – are unable to put enough food on the table, with some skipping meals or going without them all day, according to the charity national survey carried out at the end of September suggests so.

This is double the number of victims in January.

Sharron Spice, a youth worker based in London, said people visiting food banks had stopped asking for fresh food because they feared they would have to use gas or electricity to cook it.

She added that many parents would opt for “buy one, get one free” offers in supermarkets: “Cheap foods like pizza and whatever is unhealthy for you, basically.

The country is not alone in facing an inflation crisis that was triggered as a result of the COVID pandemic and was aggravated by the war in Ukraine.

More than half of consumers in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have cut essential expenses, such as food, driving and heating, according to a survey by market research firm IRI this month.

Britain’s economic health has also been complicated by its disorderly withdrawal from the European Union and battered by a period of political chaos that saw three prime ministers in three months.


The Downing Street drama, which spawned a government bond rout that drove up mortgage costs for many families, is frustrating for those struggling to make ends meet.

It took less than a year for Alex Spindlow to lose everything after the pandemic left him jobless selling merchandise for concerts and caring for his 99-year-old grandmother. Before he could get back on his feet, inflation blew up his costs and left him in debt.

‘I’ve only been eating toast with 39p loaves of bread for lunch for about a week now, with things like super cheap pizza for dinner,’ said the 42-year-old from the town of Basingstoke, in the south of England.

“I’ve lost a lot of weight by eating less. I’m getting fewer nutrients than ever before,” he added. “It makes thinking harder and I’ve just found a new job and training is tough. My arms are as thin as when I was a teenager.”

Mark Mackintosh, a marketing manager and father-of-two who lives near Oxford, is aware his family is safer than many others, but he still struggles to budget a weekly shopping bill that has almost doubled from two years ago to over 150 lbs.

“Yes, we buy less fresh food because it helps us plan meals,” said the 39-year-old, who has also reduced his energy intake and is canceling his gym membership. “If fresh food is cheaper, we’ll get it, but it’s not often offered.”

“There’s not a lot of room to go any lower,” he added. “I will try to grow some of our own vegetables in the spring, as that will prove to be the most profitable.”

Peter van Kampen, director of consumer markets at PwC, said healthy foods in supermarkets were hit hardest by inflation.

“A hugely detrimental effect of this is that it hits low-income households hard – it pushes people towards unhealthy foods,” he added.

Eilis Nithsdale, a 29-year-old clinician from the city of Leeds in northern England, can afford fresh produce but is feeling price pressure.

“Today by the time I had all my fruit and veg I had spent over 10 pounds – that was probably 3.50 pounds more than before.”

($1 = 0.8650 pounds)

Reporting by Richa Naidu in London; Additional reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Matthew Scuffham and Pravin Char

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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