Tough times hit meal choices

01/12/2011 - 00:00
The current economic climate is having an impact on food choices in the UK, as revealed in a major YouGov survey commissioned by WSH, the parent company of contract catering brands BaxterStorey, Caterlink, Holroyd Howe and Benugo

A major new survey by the UK’s leading independent contract catering group, Westbury Street Holdings (WSH), owner of contract caterer BaxterStorey and state schools caterer Caterlink, reveals that the recession is having a significant impact on people’s food choices and attitudes.

Alarmingly almost a quarter of surveyed parents of schoolchildren have said that the impact of the recession has reduced their ability to make healthy eating choices for their children.

“The survey has been enlightening in many aspects as we learn more about the changing habits of the British consumer,” says Alistair Storey, chief executive of WSH.

“Should we be surprised that nearly two thirds (62%) of people are regularly eating dinner in the front of the TV, or that almost a quarter of people (23%) eat their lunch at their desks at work? The long hours culture shows no signs of abating either with the lunch ‘hour’ now being just 20 minutes and 36 seconds on average.

“While a traditional roast dinner is now cited as the nation’s favourite dish, eating habits are adapting to suit a busy lifestyle and disappointingly, only just over a third of people (36%) actually cook on a daily basis.

“Rushing mealtimes will do nothing to help tackle the obesity issue that faces us as a nation.
“That said, it is encouraging to see that even in these financially challenging times, around a quarter of people highlight sustainability of ingredients, locally sourced ingredients, support of British agriculture and free range ingredients as being important when making their food choices for eating out.

“Even though 53% are eating meals out less, it’s the quality of the food (83%) over the cost (70%) which more people find to be an important factor when buying food out.”

Looking at the results broken down by meal opportunity, the survey shows that, worryingly, there are still one in five people in the UK who do not eat breakfast. Evidence shows this is bound to have an impact on our productivity throughout the day.

Cereal is the most popular choice for breakfast (71%) followed by toast (53%) with a cup of tea being the most favoured choice of drink (53%). Breakfast consumption is lowest in London (75%) with the highest in Edinburgh (90%). The average time spent eating breakfast is 12 minutes and 24 seconds.

The favourite lunch is a sandwich (30%) followed by salad (11%). More time is spent having lunch in London (23 minutes and 30 seconds) but this hardly equates to a traditional lunch hour, with the average time spent just 20 minutes and 36 seconds. Almost a quarter of people eat their lunch at their desk at work.

Instant coffee is the most popular choice of coffee for lunch, followed by a latte. However, tea is by far the most popular hot drink.

Two thirds of people usually snack in the afternoons. Encouragingly 57% claim to regularly eat fruit as a snack, followed by biscuits/cookies (55%), crisps (53%) and chocolate (51%). The average spend on snacks is £1.70.

When it comes to dinner time, 62% of us eat dinner in front of the TV. The average time spent eating dinner is 27 minutes and 6 seconds. A traditional roast dinner is cited as the most favourite dish.

After chicken, fish is the most popular protein in favourite meals. Just over a third of people cook on a daily basis, with dinner being the most cooked for meal both on weekdays and at weekends.

Just over half of surveyed parents of schoolchildren pack school lunches for their children, while 38% let them eat school lunches and 6% let them buy their own lunch outside of school.

Four in 10 parents of schoolchildren surveyed would be willing to pay more for better school meals. However, an equal number would not pay extra. The survey analysis reveals that mums are more likely to doubt that school meals are valuable for their child’s nutrition – their lower willingness to pay extra for better quality could be related to these doubts.

Although parents find it more important to make healthy eating choices for their child, for just over one in five surveyed parents of schoolchildren (22%) the recession has reduced the ability to make healthy eating choices for their child. The ability to make healthy eating choices for themselves has also dropped for 18% of people.

Surveyed parents of schoolchildren admit that their children snack very frequently, with children snacking both at home and at school, and 42% of parents claiming that snacks replace meals from time to time.

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