In Brief

How coronavirus will affect how we eat

Lockdown could permanently change what we cook at home and what restaurants we go to

The coronavirus outbreak looks set to permanently change how and where we eat.

A study of 2,000 adults commissioned by Tesco found a quarter of households are spending more time cooking together, while 33% said mealtimes have become more of an occasion.

As a result, two fifths said they enjoy cooking more now than they did before the lockdown began, with 89% vowing to continue making food from scratch once the restrictions are lifted.

Earlier this month Ian Wright, the chief executive officer of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said the coronavirus pandemic will likely change people’s eating habits forever and have a permanent effect on the UK food and drink industry.

“Of course there will be those who as soon as this is deemed to be over will go out and ‘party like it’s 1999’” he told the Gratham Journal, but many will also choose to embrace the new working-from-home culture, shunning their usual cafes and restaurants in favour of making their own meals.

It is a similar story around the world, with a survey by market researcher Nielsen held across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia in March concluding Asian consumers are unlikely to go back to their old habits of frequently dining out, and will instead prefer takeaways and eating at home once life goes back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.

With 86% of those polled in China saying they would eat at home more often than before the outbreak, “the survey underscores the changing retail landscape, particularly for the food and drinks segment, as businesses grapple with the new normal of social distancing drilled into the public’s psyche to stem the spread of Covid-19” reports the South China Morning Post.

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Daphne Ewing-Chow in Forbes says “with the widespread acceptance that coronavirus originated in an exotic meat market in China, there has been a massive consumer rethink around food”.

She predicts changing attitudes will see home cooking make a resurgence, healthy and organic eating growing in importance, food safety coming under a closer lens, reduced demand for exotic, risque foods, and a greater focus on eating local.

All this spells trouble for the already beleaguered high-street restaurant.

Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times writes while the likes of sport and theatre will quickly return to normal, “barring a surge of masochism, fewer entrepreneurs are going to brave the economic risk of the restaurant trade. Those who do will meet fewer willing investors. A sector that is already defined by overcapacity and hair’s-breadth margins will have to get smaller. Logic implies that takings for those who survive could stabilise and grow. But it also implies a narrowing in consumer choice.”

Warning of a “loss of globalism” he says the current crisis is an “attack on the specific lifeblood of the restaurant trade: supply chains, entrepreneurial risk-appetite, the public’s openness to experimentation. The crisis seems almost scripted to do for this one sector”.

For some though, nothing can ever replace the experience of eating out.

The Guardian’s food critic Jay Rayner says with restaurants currently shut, some have suggested he review takeaways instead.

“That’s a non-starter” he writes. “While the food might be diverting, the mid-century modern knock-off kitchen table would stay monotonously the same.”

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