Cost-of-Living & consumer habits

How consumer habits are evolving and what the future looks like

There’s no disputing that the cost-of-living crisis continues to dominate the news agenda and is impacting shopper behaviour… but when it comes to food and drink, what are consumers really worrying about? And how can the industry help to allay those fears to meet ever-changing demands in behaviour?

According to the Food and Drink Federation, ‘food and non-alcoholic beverages inflation accelerated in March, with prices rising by 5.9% year on year, up from 5.1% in February, the highest inflation rate since September 2011.’

And recent research by food and drink category consultants Levercliff, reveals how consumer habits are evolving, what matters to us as a nation, and what the future looks like. It makes for a fascinating insight into an ever-evolving situation.

Identifying consumer priorities for the next 12 months, there are three common themes emerging: money – cost of living and getting by financially, spending time with friends and family and wellness – both physical and mental. Younger adults (aged 18-34) are feeling the most financial pressure, and are prioritising their mental wellness, while those aged 55+ are keen to do things they couldn’t during lockdown - spending time with friends and family and travelling for example. Across the board, sustainability isn’t a current priority, with just (11%) seeing this as key for the next 12 months; likewise supporting community or charity (2%) is taking a backseat as personal monetary concerns dominate.

Unsurprisingly, rising costs are having a financial impact on 72% of UK adults, with price increases influencing buyer behaviour and choice. The top concern regarding purchasing decisions is for food and drink (41% up from 29% in Oct 21), showing a significant increase across all ages and demographics.

While supermarkets are committing to low prices, for some shoppers downtrading is no longer an option, it has become a case of cutting back, or going without. Budget restraints also mean that there is prioritisation to be done, with more than a third of us (36%) sticking to a budget and shopping around for best price and offers (vs 24% in Oct 21). Nearly half of UK adults have made changes to what they buy or where they shop as a result, and rather than eating out, 38% have also made or bought something similar to eat at home – a third (34%) also plan to eat out less over the next three months.

Reducing food waste is the main way consumers are ‘doing their bit’ to support the environment – whether it’s buying less or finding inventive ways to make food go further. Younger adults are also keen to buy products in sustainable packaging, whereas their older counterparts place importance on British produce. As a nation, we do have environmental concerns but there are more immediate, pressing issues to consider. This means that food and drink companies need to make sustainable choices easy for buyers to make – as for the time being, beyond price, shoppers don’t want to change their habits or make a switch from brands they like.

Finally, just under a third of UK adults have made changes to their food and drink purchases over the last three months for health reasons, and a further third would like to. This is playing out through a proactive approach to wellness such as exercising more (45%) and eating more fruit and vegetables (40%) - with a third (35%) cutting down on sweet snacks such as biscuits, cakes, confectionery. Younger consumers want to boost their immune system and consume more protein, whereas older people are more concerned with gut health. There’s also been a shift in meat consumption, with nearly three quarters (73%) making changes over the last 12 months – switching to eating more chicken, turkey and fish, and eating less processed meat and red meat – and buying higher quality or organic produce. Though there is little movement in those switching to full a vegetarian or vegan diet - 43% of us rarely or never have vegetarian days – and just 2% are vegan, while 4% are vegetarian.

Hungry for more? You can watch the full webinar with commentary from the Levercliff team, here: Changing Consumer Habits | The Food & Drink Federation (