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

Food and Travel (UK) - - 200 th Issue -

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.

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