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This week we turned our attention to food and drink. As the nation continues to navigate their new realities in the COVID-19 lockdown, grocery shopping and eating & drinking represent some of things that people still feel they can take control of at the moment. As you might imagine, we’ve seen plenty of evidence that people are spending a lot of their days in lockdown thinking about and getting creative with their food and drink…

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1. People are shopping differently under lockdown

There is a real, conscious effort to stick to one or two food shops a week during lockdown, in order to minimise time spent out of the home and in contact with other people.  This has had the knock-on effect of encouraging people to plan meals in advance of their shop, rather than buying too much on impulse in store. People are using set shopping lists more than ever - if they forget something they can’t just pop back.

“The meal plans are so much better than winging it with meals almost everyday so will continue with this.”

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2. The food shop is tenser, quicker and focussed

It’s evident that supermarkets are taking the pandemic and customers’ health and safety very seriously.  Most supermarkets have introduced staggered entry, social distancing queues, purchase limits on items, one-way systems around stores and disinfected trolleys, all of which customers understand and appreciate. 

This means grocery shopping is no leisurely affair and can make people feel on edge; they actively try to be in and out quickly and feel awkward browsing or inspecting items too carefully prior to purchase. People feel worried and scared about interactions with other people, which can sometimes cause tension and irritation, as customers see non-adherence to “the rules” or a lack of respect for other customers or staff in store. 

There are still certain items that people are struggling to find, our latest Lockdown Unlocked data shows that 3 in 5 people (58%) have struggled to find what they’d usually buy - but we seem to have progressed from toilet roll and pasta shortages, to hair dye and flour.

“I wouldn’t want to go during the busiest times. There is a lot less browsing, and I tend to go with a list and stick with it.”

“It's actually scary when you're out and about as people just don't seem to understand they should keep their distance.”

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3. People are getting creative and experimental in the kitchen 

People are looking to move beyond ready meals or family favourites, and try out new recipes. With more time available, many have found a new enjoyment from cooking and are becoming braver and more experimental; 2 in 5 people (43%), and over half (54%) of family households are cooking more food from scratch than they normally would.  

There’s also a more practical need to get creative when certain ingredients aren’t available in-store and ‘popping out’ to the store to buy one or two forgotten items isn’t part of lockdown behaviour. 

This behaviour extends beyond meals to treats too, with 50% of 18-34s, and 46% of family households baking more than usual during lockdown.

“I'm definitely being more experimental with cooking / baking. I tried vegan meringues using chickpea water - complete disaster!”  

“I've been trying different things too, made some wild garlic pesto and bread rolls to varying degrees of success.”  

“[I’m buying] ingredients to make our meals more varied (e.g. lemons, spices, ginger, chillies, tahini or others we would not normally buy), garden seeds if available, beer and wine.”

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4. #makeamealofit

There’s a trend towards making food part of an occasion - bringing a little of the restaurant experience into the home.  People are making an effort to up their game not only with the food itself, but also with the table decor, perhaps having fresh flowers on the table, bringing out special china, or using nice napkins. Meal times are more than just the food - they are increasingly being used as a special time to stop and connect with those we live with, which isn’t always possible outside of lockdown.

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5. ‘Fakeaways’ the new takeaways?

We’re seeing the emergence of ‘fakeaways’ where people are recreating their favourite take-away dishes at home.  For example, there’s been a lot of excitement around Wagamama releasing its famous katsu curry recipe on Instagram.  This trend is driven by people having more time to cook, as well as some people having concerns around food & packaging potentially being contaminated by coronavirus.  In addition, some are watching their finances more closely than usual and don’t feel they can splash out on takeaways.

That said, there is still increased demand for takeaways amongst home workers, with 26% ordering more takeaways than usual.  Some of these orders are from local restaurants or pubs, who people want to financially support during lockdown.

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6. Alcohol signals the end of the working day and a time to socialise with friends and family

Whilst at home, people are looking for a new signal to switch from daytime to evening.  For many, alcohol provides this cue, with a quarter (25%) of the UK drinking more alcohol during lockdown. It’s no surprise that this trend is being driven by those most likely wanting to de-stress, with over a third of home workers (35%), families (37%) and 18-34s (38%) drinking the most

Virtual drinking sessions on video calls have taken off, with people eager to unwind and socialise with friends and family on these platforms, perhaps co-ordinating their tipples of choice to engender a feeling of togetherness. We’ve heard mention of virtual wine tasting, where friends in different homes buy the same bottles of wine, then share tasting notes. Creativity is also extending into alcohol, with #quarantini taking off on social media.

“We did have a few drinks when we did a pub quiz Zoom with friends at the weekend, but we would have had the same amount if we had physically gone to the pub.”

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Next week we’re digging deeper into what people think of the information and communication they’re receiving from different brands and companies - keep an eye out for updates!

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Lockdown Unlocked is an online qual community with 50 members across the UK, combined with a nat-rep quant tracker of 1,000 UK adults.