UK: Consumers Cut Spending on Food

Not only are customers reducing their food expenditures, but some food retailers believe that they are actually buying less food, not merely cheaper edibles. Observers believe that shoppers are being less wasteful.

From the Independent:

Food sales in Britain have fallen for the first time in more than 20 years, as customers tighten their belts.

The grim retail sales figures from the Office for National Statistics came as DSGi, the owner of the Currys and PC World chains, and the sports retailer Sports Direct posted dire sales.

The data shed further light on theaccelerating speed of the consumerrecession as retailers hurtle towards what is expected to be one the worst Christmas trading periods for 30 years.

The ONS said that sales volumes in predominantly food stores, from butchers to the big supermarkets, fell 0.1 per cent for the three months to September, compared to the same period last year. This is first time they have entered negative territory since 1986.

While it is widely acknowledged that some consumers are switching to own-label products and discounters Aldi and Lidl, the figures suggest people are actually cutting back on the amount of food they eat.

Mark Hudson, the lead consultant for the UK retail and consumer sector at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that hard-pressed consumers are cutting down not only on expensive food and treats but also the amount of food they waste. “It is an indicator of how tough it is starting to get,” Mr Hudson said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Anonymous

    “Observers believe that shoppers are being less wasteful.”

    aahh, excuse me for saying this, but wasn’t that the point?

  2. Yves Smith

    The alternative theory would be that consumers are eating less, as opposed to buying less..literally belt-tightening, as opposed to figuratively.

  3. Anonymous

    It’s hard to measure if caloric intake is falling. For example, just because consumption of beef, pork, and poultry dropped, people might increase purchases of protein in the form of beans and rice, or tuna, both of which are cheaper forms of protein. Also, if people are buying more in bulk, depending on how “volume” is measured, caloric intake might be unchanged. There isn’t enough description to really draw conclusions about caloric intake from this article.

  4. mb

    I hate to say it, but it would do americans a world of good to cut back on food by 20%. I lived in France a while, and the difference is astounding. Americans are ashamedly, fat and lazy. Even poor ones.

  5. tompain

    Oh, puhleeze. Down 0.1%? At MOST all this suggests is that consumers destocked their pantries a little bit. It doesn’t in the least provide evidence that people are eating less or reducing waste (or waist).

  6. Richmond Rambler

    Yes, mb, I also lived in France (in my teens) & thankfully have no taste for fast food. But food appreciation is _taught_ in schools in France & there excellent food is plentiful, fresh and often inexpensive. Not so here, or in the UK with the rows and rows of crisps in the supermarkets…

  7. Anonymous

    I found food to be pricey, and a lot plain sucked, but a lot was good. I was on the mediterranean in Provence. I really liked eating outdoors, except when mistral comes.

  8. Anonymous

    I can assure you that people are changing their shopping and eating habits.

    We got 8 hens and because we do not use all their eggs, we have started taking them to the farmers market and trading them for other items we need.

    We also get food that a local grocer is getting rid of. We never even enter a store unless it is to buy food or gas. We try to stock up on things and shop less often (So that we do not have those “extra’s you tend to pick up every time you shop).

    We let the kids eat first and then survive on their leftovers. We never buy soda or any pre-packaged drink, instead we make tea or lemonade from concentrate.

    We buy in bulk and focus on the cheaper items, like beans and rice. We stopped buying garbage bags and just empty the inside small can into the outside large one. We stopped buying paper towels and use cloth napkins (which we hang out to dry and wash in cold water).

    We still spend the same amount as we used to but this is ONLY because I called my nana (who lived through the depression as a child) and asked her what to do. She told me to stockpile dried food, medicine and a few other things. So now my utility room is filled with jars of dried food, olive oil, sugar, flour and such. Each time I go grocery shopping I buy extra to store from what is on sale.

    I thought some of you may be interested. For your reference we are a family of four making $65k a year, with a mortgage we can afford. The two things we refuse to give up are toilet paper and private school for the kiddies.

    And please for the love of God, don’t call me a soccer mom. I am a professional and an artist, my kids hate sports.

  9. Owner Earnings

    Most Americans are so “over” weight that they could skip 1 meal a day for 6 months until they reached a “healthy” weight.

    Some may be forced to do just that.

  10. Yves Smith


    If you had watched the retail data out of the UK, as I do, this is on top of ongoing evidence that consumers are cutting their food budgets. This comes on top of reports over the last few months of:

    1. Declines in sales at food mongers that carry specialty and convenience foods (Marks & Spencer had a very big drop in its food halls)

    2. Reports over several months from grocers that shoppers had notably shifted to lower priced goods

    3. Reports of shoppers increasingly buying after payday; that pattern far more pronounced than before

    The pattern in the US, BTW has been that grocery store sales have INCREASED because people are eating out less

    When you look at the latest report in context, it is not insignificant.

  11. Yves Smith

    Agreed on the general point re US eating habits. I am always appalled when I eat out at how large the portions are. Even appetizers are big enough to be main courses.

  12. Anonymous

    Uh, the article is right. People are eating less. And some of them don’t need to lose any weight.

    Face it.

  13. Anonymous

    We had an employee come to US for a 3 month assignment from a chinese office of ours. Skinny guy.

    we took him out to eat, he thought meal was over after salad and appetizer. He was full.

    When he left he weighed 18 lbs more than when he arrived.

  14. Anonymous

    This article was interesting to me because for a long time now, I’ve believed the coming recession may be exacerbated by the over-dependence of Americans (and others, too) on things that are not essential. For instance, let’s say times get financially hard for a family of four. Are they going to cut out cable TV? Not likely. How bout eliminating the TV altogether? Even less likely. Cable TV and just plain ol’ TV (along with many other things such as cell phones, the desire to drive a new car, cell phones, etc) are no longer considered luxuries. They considered essentials now. I joke with my friends that TVs are now in the consumer staples category. Funny but also sadly true I do believe. We as a people need too many “things” to help us “feel good.” Our emotional structure has become over-reliant on that which materialism offers. A widespread reluctance to emotionally adapt to new economic conditions could actually prolong and magnify the duration of the coming recession. Reluctance to give up non-essentials could cause people to dig themselves into an even deeper hole financially.


  15. CrocodileChuck

    re: US diet, obesity prevalance, and average size of homo sapiens in USA…

    When I lived in the States in the mid eighties I wore an XL size Hanes T-shirt. When I moved to Australia then, I weighed 80kg. Today: 78kg. Hanes T shirt size now: MEDIUM.


  16. Vox Sanus

    Nothing bad about this. Most Americans could probably stand to reduce their caloric consumption by about half, and then we’d be back where we were in the 70’s.

  17. baychev

    70% of americans are classified as overweight. the situation in australia is worse. i remember watching a hopman match and the camera showed the spectators: they looked like competitors in hot dog/sausage eating contest, with no interest to the tennis match going on.
    ah and yesterday i saw a couple in quite good physical shape at the grocery store in Nice (FR) forking out 382 euro on food. this is the highest i’ve ever seen and the cart was only half way full, most with pastry. aside from that french are not obese

  18. Anonymous

    I ordered a pizza in GB a couple of years back. It came with two fried eggs on top. Worst pizza I ever tried to eat.

    Then I ordered bangers and mash at a truck stop along the A1. Never have I had sausage with less taste…as if they were filled with sawdust. How can anyone get fat eating that stuff?

  19. a

    “I joke with my friends that TVs are now in the consumer staples category.”

    They will take my computer and my Internet connection over my dead body.

  20. luther

    anon @ 11:53:

    originally coming from ohio, i agree that the entire state needs to go to diet camp.

    with that said, i personally trust their sense of judgment & character more than of coke-addled finance freaks and caffiene-fueled politicos with napoleonic complexes.

    here's a personal health primer: better check in the mirror for any malignant eugenic lesions before they spread any further…

    cancer (of the body &/or the mind) eats its host.

  21. Anonymous

    Living in Australia, where the only thin people are on television and the goverment spend millions trying to get us to eat more healthily – could be a good thing

  22. paddy

    The UK is part of the EU and placed no restrictions on workers from the new EU countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, plus the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus) coming to work in UK. France and Germany does still restrict these workers. With the UK economy downturning, many of the estmated 600,000 workers ( are IMO choosing to go home. Hence, IMO lower food retail sales are not evidence for healthier eating or people being less wasteful. I wonder does the ONS data consdier this.

  23. dlr

    You guys are so self righteous. Obesity is strongly genetically linked. Most exercise and/or fewer calories and /or a lower percentage of fat and sugar in the diet all INFLUENCE the persons inborn ‘set point’, but people are BORN with ‘fat genes’ or ‘skinny genes’. But someone who is born with ‘fat genes’ is going to struggle against it all of their lives. They aren’t fat because they are lazy, or weak willed. They were BORN with a different ‘set point’. And, until medical science figures out how to fix the problem, even if they eat right, and exercise, they are STILL GOING TO BE FATTER, maybe by a lot, than a person who was born with ‘skinny genes’.

    You shouldn’t make fun of fat people any more than you should make fun of alcoholics.

  24. Anonymous

    You shouldn’t make fun of fat people any more than you should make fun of alcoholics.

    Fat alcoholics on the other hand are fair game!

Comments are closed.