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Millions skip meals as others turn to ‘forgotten’ fish heads and Spam

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Millions of people are skipping meals or finding it hard to put healthy meals on the table due to the cost-of-living crisis. For others, they have discovered ‘forgotten’ foods such as fish heads and Spam.

Households across the country are making huge changes to how they shop and eat amid soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crunch.

According to research by consumer champion Which?, of those who said they struggled financially, 50% said their household was skipping meals as a result.

Nearly half of those polled (46%) said they are finding it harder to eat healthily compared to before the crisis.

But this figure ramps up to 78% of those finding it very difficult financially.

As such, more than half the near 3,000 UK adults polled said they are now looking out for food on promotion.

A similar number are ‘trading down’ by buying cheaper products than they would normally.

Almost all (99%) of those who are in a difficult financial position reported doing something to save money on food. And Which? found that even those who are living comfortably, are also feeling the squeeze and acting to cut costs.

Four in 10 households are now buying expensive or treat foods less often while a third said they are shopping around in supermarkets, other stores or online.

One in five said they had bought more frozen food to cut costs (18%), around one in 10 (12%) across all of those surveyed said they had resorted to skipping meals and 5% said that they were buying more ready meals or microwave meals.

Cup of tea for lunch

Roberta, a 57-year-old London resident, told Which?: “I am cutting back on food because I do not want to cut back on heating. I have osteoarthritis and I need to be warm.

“Now, I only buy strictly what I need. I have also reduced the quantity of food I eat. At lunch I go for a cup of tea – if I feel hungry, a cup of warm milk with a slice of toast.”

Other measures that Roberta has adopted include shopping early in the morning to ensure she bags products from popular supermarket basic ranges; buying more discounted items nearing the expiry date and not buying online because of delivery charges and minimum spend requirements.

Fish heads and spam back on the table

Meanwhile, separate research from Waitrose revealed there has been a big rise in popularity of ‘forgotten’ as well as tinned food.

It reported a 34% increase in the sale of fish heads and a 36% rise in the sale of Spam as part of its food and drinks report for 2022/23.

It revealed shoppers are having to be “savvier than ever” when it comes to shopping on a budget.

Seven in 10 surveyed said they were more mindful about their grocery budget while a third said they are looking out for special offers more than ever before. For a quarter, they’re economising by making a shopping list and sticking to it.

Waitrose said sales of fish heads, Spam, beef shin, ox cheek and lamb neck sales were “driven by economy and sustainability”, as well as slow-cooking.

Elsewhere, it revealed 46% said they are buying more sweet treats to enjoy at home, including custard tarts, eclairs and cappuccino mousse, while the “world’s first carbon neutral potato” has also seen strong sales.

Meanwhile, sales of the Waitrose Thrive, GoVeggie, PlantLiving, EatFlexi and Gut Health ranges have increased by 74%, with kefir yoghurt sales up 51%.

Supermarket budget lines

Which? said that while a number of supermarkets are introducing measures to help their customers during the cost-of-living crisis, “they also need to make sure that budget lines for affordable essential items are widely available across their stores, particularly in areas of the country where they are needed most”.

The consumer champion added they should also ensure their pricing is more transparent, legible and consistent “so that people can more easily understand the best deals”.

It added that marketing budgets and promotions should be targeted to support those struggling, with offers, vouchers and loyalty card benefits focused on the places and households where people are most in need.

Sue Davies, Which? head of food policy, said: “The devastating impact of the cost of living crisis is, worryingly, leading to millions of people skipping meals or struggling to put healthy meals on the table.

“Supermarkets have a crucial role to play in supporting their customers through this very difficult time.

“By making sure that everyone has easy access to budget food ranges that are also healthy, can easily compare the price of products to get the best value and that promotions are targeted at supporting people most in need, supermarkets can help their customers to navigate the tough months ahead.”

Related: See YourMoney.com’s Food price hikes: How to find discounted yellow stick deals for ways to save on your shopping.