European consumers cut back on food costs to cope with shortages and rising prices
Survey of 5,000 consumers in 10 European countries reveals majority of people report feeling the impact of rising food prices as a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine
- Over half of European consumers surveyed think the war in Ukraine has increased food prices in Europe
- Consumers cut back on red meat, dairy and alcohol to save on their weekly shop
- Shoppers change behaviour to be more mindful in their purchasing choices
The majority of European consumers (53%) are strongly worried about food shortages, reveals new research from a consortium of leading universities in Europe. The ‘Changes in food behaviour in times of crisis’ study has been led by Aarhus University, Denmark, with funding from EIT Food, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.
A survey of 5,000 consumers in 10 European countries found that more than half of consumers surveyed (55%) think that the war in Ukraine and ensuing economic and supply chain effects have made food production more vulnerable, while 54% think that the war is the main reason for increased food prices in Europe.
The project is a follow-up study to research conducted in 2020, which demonstrated that COVID-19 lockdown measures may have caused lasting behaviour change in relation to food consumption.
Since the last study, the effects of rising prices have been keenly felt by consumers, with shoppers observing price increases for most categories of food. The sharpest of these perceived price rises are in animal products, with 55% of consumers saying they have seen significant price increase in red meat, 52% in fish, and 51% in dairy.
Nearly half, meanwhile, think that these costs are being unfairly distributed, with 48% of those surveyed believing that the war has enabled food retailers and manufacturers to make more profit.
Consumers cut food costs by buying less or switching brands
Consumers are reacting to increased prices by cutting costs where they can, including buying less, buying cheaper brands, and shopping at cheaper stores. Nearly four in 10 consumers (37%) report that they are buying less red meat, while a third are buying less fish and poultry (33% for each).
Shoppers are also cutting back entirely on certain categories to save money, with one in 10 consumers (12%) having stopped buying convenience foods altogether, and 10% having stopped buying alcoholic beverages.
To cut costs on cereals and dairy products, a third of consumers say they have switched to buying a cheaper brand (35% and 33% respectively).
Shoppers making more mindful choices
As well as cost-saving behaviours, consumers across Europe are also making more deliberate purchasing choices. Over half 52% say they are now checking prices more than they did before the pandemic, an increase from 31% in 2020.
Four in 10, meanwhile (41%), say they are making fewer unplanned purchases than before, up from 26% in 2020. Four in 10 are also checking use-by dates (40%) or using labels to compare products more (39%).
Looking at trends of consumer behaviours with regards to cooking and eating, the project used the findings to group European consumers into five categories.
This grouping shows that a third (33%) of consumers report that they now pay more attention to food prices, but otherwise report no major changes, while a third (32%) say they are making more mindful food choices, such as paying greater attention to labels or seeking out new food innovations.
Only 19% of consumers showed resilient food behaviours, meaning that their behaviour remained mostly unchanged.*
“The ongoing Russian war against Ukraine has brought into sharp focus just how fragile our food system can be. We urgently need to scale and support innovation to address supply chain issues and ensure that we are producing enough affordable, nutritious food for all; however, we must do so sustainably, fairly and efficiently. In order to meet and prevent future challenges, we have to build a system that puts resilient, future-proof and affordable solutions at its heart.”
"Though the crisis in Ukraine and global economic downturn present unique and considerable threats to the European food system, we hope that this new, comprehensive research will empower decisionmakers to craft informed and timely policies that adequately tackle mounting consumer concerns regarding spiralling food costs.
It is also important that policymakers continue to uplift the significant progress made by consumers to make more mindful, healthy and sustainable food choices as we continue to address the growing obesity and sustainability challenges of our time.”
* The remainder (7% and 9% respectively) had either become more concerned with all aspects of food, or say food has become less important to them.
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About the study
The project ‘Changes in food behaviour in times of crisis’ was coordinated by Aarhus University and included project partners University of Helsinki and KU Leuven.
The project received funding from EIT Food, the world’s largest and most dynamic food innovation community. EIT Food is supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.
Consumer data was collected by an online survey carried out through Aistila Oy (www.aistila.fi), a research company. Data collection was conducted in 10 European countries (Spain, Sweden, Germany, UK, Poland, Italy, France, Greece, Finland, Romania) in August 2022. A total of 5,000 adult consumers (18+) were surveyed, 500 per country, meeting the criteria of being responsible or co-responsible for grocery shopping.
About Aarhus University
Aarhus University is consistently ranked as among the world’s top 100 universities, providing research, innovation and education at the highest level across science, technology, health, humanities, arts, business and social sciences, with a strategic focus on food.
About EIT Food
EIT Food is the world’s largest and most dynamic food innovation community. We accelerate innovation to build a future-fit food system that produces healthy and sustainable food for all.
Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union, we invest in projects, organisations and individuals that share our goals and vision for a healthy and sustainable food system. We unlock innovation potential in businesses and universities and create and scale agrifood startups to bring new technologies and products to market. We equip entrepreneurs and professionals with the skills needed to transform the food system and put consumers at the heart of our work, helping build trust by reconnecting them to the origins of their food.
We are one of nine innovation communities established by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT), an independent EU body set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.
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