THE WAY WE SHOP & EAT What we cook for weeknight suppers and marquee meals has changed. Ingredients from across the globe have found their way into our basket and we’re much richer for it
As we’ve begun to travel more in the last 20 years, what we choose to eat has changed. We’ve brought back ideas and inspiration from foreign shores, experimented with styles of cuisine and cooking reportoires have grown. Indeed, the most popular area of the Food and Travel website is our 2,000-deep recipe section, which accounts for half of the traffic.
Our cooking habits have gone full circle. We’ve pushed back against processed food and fought fad diets. Now we’re back to a place where real food, simply prepared with quality, seasonal ingredients is the fashion. But as a Food and Travel reader, for you, it’s been that way all along.
Since we began publishing in 1997, we have started demanding much more variety from our supermarkets. While they’re by no means a new concept, the Nineties saw the big names build ‘superstores’ in out-oftown locations, encouraging the concept of a weekly shop. They began to serve as a one-stop shop for everything from groceries to homewares and furniture. It peaked in 2001 with one pound in every seven being spent at one of the biggest retailers. Although this en masse way of shopping has come in and out of vogue as our buying habits have changed. ‘The notion that you are going to push a trolley around for the week is a thing of the past,’ said Waitrose’s then managing director, Mark Price, in 2014. More money is now going through the tills of speciality retailers and ‘local’ stores as shoppers choose a less regimented experience, picking up ingredients depending on what they want to cook that night. These stores rang up £37.5bn of last year’s £179bn total grocery sales, according to research by IGD, the industry trade body. With Goldman Sachs predicting an 18 per cent drop in sales from larger stores by 2020, the trend seems to be continuing. One in ten people now do their grocery shopping online and international specialist stores like Chinese and Turkish supermarkets cater to our growing taste for outré globetrotting ingredients, as the likes of Whole Foods does for organics.
According to The Grocer, the cost of an average supermarket shop has risen by 47 per cent over the past 20 years, far above the rate of inflation. It’s interesting to see that the largest growth in the past two years has been at ‘discount’ retailers. German chains Lidl and Aldi now have a 12 per cent share of the market, as you shop here for speciality items like cured meats and limited runs on quality wines, considering these stores to provide good products at a fair price.
An appetite for flavour
The landscape of the supermarket has changed. With cookery shows, cookbooks and magazines such as ours featuring recipes from the kitchen of a region, the shelves are now piled high with all manner of produce. A cornucopia of lentils, cheeses from around the world and items that just weren’t available at the start of the Nineties now populate stores.
A wider range of choice has given rise to some healthier eating habits. Grains like quinoa, freekeh and farro have been staples across South America and North Africa for centuries, but in the last five years have risen in prominence as they’re employed on restaurant menus.
There’s also been a renaissance for fat and dairy. Health advice in the 1990s marked them as the enemy, but the latest research shows that they’re an integral part of a balanced diet. Good fats from healthy, responsibly fed animals is vital for energy production and dairy contains a whole host of essential macronutrients.
Supermarkets have also had to up their game. After a number of scandals, most recently the horsemeat episode of 2013, we demanded they go further in terms of provenance and provide a clearer labelling system on pre-packaged foods. In the last 15 years they have also introduced inhouse butchers, bakeries and delis, all of which are trying to cater for our desire for freshness, variety and quality.
As palates continue to broaden, supermarket buyers spread their nets further afield for the next big thing in retail to tickle your taste buds. And if the past 20 years are anything to go by, the world of flavour has plenty more layers to reveal yet.