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Food for thought - how are Britain's diverse eating habits affecting our farmers?

With a rise in Italian eating, and contradicting health messages dominating our headlines, we look into how the Britain’s changing culinary habits are affecting the farmers.


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Italian style cooking rocketed during the period 1975 to 2000
Italian style cooking rocketed during the period 1975 to 2000
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How has your diet changed over the years? How is this affecting farmers? @DefraGovUK data reveals all

In 1974 households had 2.5l milk/week - now its less than 1.5l...why? @DefraGovUK data reveals #teamdairy

New data released by Defra charting the UK’s food buying habits between 1974 and 2000 shows just how much UK household eating habits have changed.

 

But in an increasingly culinary diverse culture, how do we ensure traditional farming products remain viable when consumer tastes are changing so radically?

 

Following the latest National Food Survey statistics, we break down different sectors of the industry and ask experts how products such as liquid milk, potatoes and red meat could retain market share against the rise of fish, quinoa and frozen pizza.

 

 


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Milk

Milk

Between 1974 and 2000, liquid milk sales dropped from almost 2.5 litres per household per week to less than 1.5 litres.

 

And while whole milk used to account for almost 100 per cent of this, semi-skimmed now rules the roost.

 

Kevin Bellamy, senior dairy analyst at Rabobank, said the consumption of liquid milk ‘had gone down everywhere’.

 

“People are eating more pizzas and mozzarella, cheese manufacturing figures have shown a two per cent growth,” he said, adding this could be an area for more utilisation of dairy.

 

Bread and wheat

Bread and wheat

While bread consumption dropped from 1kg per household in 1974 to less than 600g in 2000, with white bread dropping 75 per cent and wholemeal up 85 per cent, the rise of pasta and ‘Italian-style cooking’ rocketed during the period.

 

And experts believed this provided some opportunities for arable farmers.

 

Guy Gagen, chief arable advisor at the NFU, said: “Most Mediterranean products are made with durum wheat, which is not easy to competitively produce in the UK, competing against France, North Dakota and West Canada.

 

“There is some scope in British wheat farmers producing wheat with more durum characteristics, not just for changing trend in diets, but also to increase quality of wheat produced.”

 

Potatoes

Potatoes

According to Defra data, purchases of chips were three times higher in 2000 than in 1974, but the problem lies in the 67 per cent decrease in fresh potato sales since 1974.

 

Nick White, head of marketing at AHDB Potatoes, said the ‘demonization of carbohydrates’, with the ‘widespread misconception eating them makes you fat’, was a real challenge the sector had to battle against.

 

He added: “[Potatoes] are naturally fat-free, a source of fibre, contain more potassium than three bananas and are gluten-free.

 

“Also, there is a raft of quick and easy recipes which can be made with potatoes as a key ingredient and can be made in less than 30 minutes, with under 500 calories.”

 

Red meat

Red meat

With red meat being challenged by the rise of cheaper protein sources, such as chicken, industry leaders said the benefits of lamb, pork and beef needed to be hammered home to consumers.

 

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said despite negative press surrounding the red meat industry in recent years from a health perspective, there were huge opportunities for promotion and offering the right cuts, not just lamb joints, was crucial.

 

He said: “The way to increase consumption is presenting it in ways younger people are interested in.”

 

And it was a similar theme for pork, which has been hit hard by reports suggesting bacon and sausages pose a cancer risk.

 

National Pig Association chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We are trying to promote the mid-week convenience opportunities pork can provide a family and re-educate people on quality of pork as a healthy, high protein, versatile meat.

 

“While a drop in consumption is concerning, our main concern is ensuring self-sufficiency and keeping British consumers eating British produce.”

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