Of all of the changes that 2020 has brought, one area that particularly interests me is how it has transformed our relationship with food.
For a country that's proud of its café culture and great restaurants, being locked down was a big shock. At CHOICE, we can instantly detect changes in consumer behaviour through what people are searching for online. When tough restrictions started across the country in late March, we saw an instant spike in interest in reviews of kitchen appliances. Coffee machines were a popular early target, but as people started to think about what to eat after their morning coffee, they moved on to bread makers, food processors and cookware.
People across the country shared sourdough starters and baking tips. Staples such as flour were some of the first products to sell out, as supermarkets struggled to respond to a rapid surge in demand. At one stage I even resorted to buying a 12.5kg bag of flour online, after weeks of failing to find it instore. The quality was so much better than what I can normally buy in the supermarket that I'll do this again when it eventually runs out.
The evidence for the benefits of fresher, less processed food is clear
In case you think this was just a phase, there's evidence that some of the new habits formed during lockdown have stuck, even in parts of the country where restrictions have eased. Search-engine data shows that the number of searches for 'sourdough recipe' is more than double normal levels, some six months after lockdowns first started.
Of course, I feel for people in the hospitality industry who have lost jobs and income. Yet if part of the culinary shift is due to people making more of their food from scratch rather than buying it in a packet or tin, that's a ray of light in a dark time. The evidence for the benefits of fresher, less processed food is clear. Besides boosting the nutritional value of what you eat, it can significantly reduce the risk of a number of cancers.
There are several reasons for this change in behaviour. For some people, it's been driven by economic necessity. But, for others, it has surely been about the fact that working from home has made life less hectic, making cooking something you might enjoy rather than a chore at the end of a long commute. It's even better that this has happened at a time when children are spending more time at home – many have been exposed to the joys of making things that used to come pre-made.
We're lucky to live in a country with an abundant supply of fresh, good-quality food. I hope we come to enjoy the benefits of that, even more so than before.