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How changing consumer habits have affected the farming sector

Consumer habits have significantly changed the face of the UK farming industry, with farmers becoming more efficient and meeting different specifications in response to changing appetites and a drive for cheap food.

Alex   Black

Alex   Black
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How changing consumer habits have affected the farming sector

Since 1957, the UK has more than halved the proportion of its weekly expenditure which is spent on food from 33 per cent to 16 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.


Alongside more choice over food and people living in smaller households, British people have become richer and chosen to spend the money on luxuries, such as foreign holidays, leisure and cars, according to Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel.


And increasingly busy lifestyles have created a drive for convenience in where consumers shop and what they buy.


People have also switched to shopping at supermarkets, leading to a decline in local butchers, greengrocers and milk deliveries and the competitive retail environment has kept prices low.


This has meant more farmers were supplying large supermarkets and, as a result, subject to the pressure they put on prices.

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Mr McKevitt added if supermarkets were to charge more, people had the choice to go elsewhere.


“They will go to the store down the road,” he said.


And the retail landscape has changed again, with the rise of discount supermarkets. Aldi was now the fifth most popular supermarket with Lidl also seeing massive growth, making the pricing landscape even more competitive.


“It has brought about brutal price wars,” he said.


Fresh food has played a big role, with discounters realising if they could attract shoppers in with fresh produce, they would then pick up other items too.


Online shopping has also risen in popularity, but Mr McKevitt said in some ways it had been less disruptive, with people buying the same items online as they would in store.

Market specifications


Meeting market specifications had become ‘even more important’, according to Dr Eleri Price, supply chain development executive at Welsh meat promotion agency Hybu Cig Cymru.


“Arguably, there has been a decline in people’s knowledge of different cuts and how to cook them and people certainly want quicker meal solutions,” she said.


“The rise of large multiple retailers has driven a trend towards standardised packaging, which has made meeting market specifications more important.”


Stephen Evans agreed and said farmers needed to understand more about where their meat ended up.


“We would encourage them to be aware of why those specifications might be there and, as best they can, to meet them,” he added.

Consumers were also demanding a lower fat content and more continental genetics have been introduced into British flocks over the years to meet requirements.


Dr Price added: “Farmers have also had to pay increased attention to efficiencies, including introducing high-sugar grasses to finish animals more quickly.”


Going forward, Dr Price said measured eating quality might be a growing consumer requirement.


“This might affect the criteria of how carcases are graded, making performance recording ever more important,” she said.


If Brexit restricts market access to Europe, there may also need to be a renewed focus on lamb shelf-life.


And competition from cheaper proteins, such as poultry, looked set to continue, meaning lamb and other meats needed to promote their quality and provenance to consumers.

Changing tastes and a culture of convenience foods

Changing tastes and a culture of convenience foods

Comsumer demand for more convenient meal solutions has driven a fall in the amount of roasting joints to eating more dish-based cuisine.


The British public has also developed more exotic tastes, with younger consumers in particular less interested in traditional meals, with Italian the UK’s favourite cuisine, making up 21 per cent of meals.


But while these often use meats such as lamb and pork, the UK tends to favour chicken breast for its versatility. And lamb and pork were most associated with chops and roasts.


Stephen Evans, consumer insight analyst at AHDB, said the levy board’s campaigns had focused on showing consumers red meat could be used in these dishes, with chicken breast a versatile, cheap meat which consumers were familiar with.


“It is a behavioural thing,” he said.


“Providing consumers with more knowledge on how to use those cuts gives them the confidence.”

It has also affected the potato sector, with people moving away from traditional British potato-based meals.


But there were also opportunities from added value, with consumers willing to pay for products, such as meat in marinades, ready meals and pre-prepared salads, as well as an emphasis on the cuts which lend themselves to those kind of dishes.


Mr Evans said consumers were looking for meals which fitted with shorter preparation times, and products, such as mid-week roasts, pork medallions and ‘sizzle sandwich’ steaks, could meet those needs.


“Health is gaining a lot of interest; it is being clear about the health benefits of red meat. There is a lot more which can be done,” he added.


People also associated potatoes with being healthy, which could provide opportunities for growers.

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