This page provides an overview of results in progress as the data from country surveys are analysed. Below left, you will find some overview results, and below right links are provided to initial results from individual and groups of countries, some of which are in local languages.

Overview of results in progress prepared for the World Pandemic Research Network. January 2021

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Food-Covid-19 network of food experts and researchers launched an online survey to collect initial information on the ways ordinary people at household level have changed how they obtain, prepare and eat their food. Data collected also examined both behavioural and attitudinal changes resulting from variations in national lockdowns and other restrictions, such as closure of physical workplaces, canteens, cafés and restaurants, schools and childcare institutions, changes in households’ grocery shopping frequency, individuals’ perceived risk of COVID-19, income loss due to the pandemic and socio-demographic factors. Overall, almost 10,000 valid responses were obtained, with most of the individual country surveys using quota sampling to ensure generally representative samples of the national populations in terms of gender, age and regional distribution.

Currently, detailed analysis has taken place on a cross country comparison of data from Denmark, Germany and Slovenia with results showing that, depending on the type of food, 10-45% of study participants changed their consumption frequency during the pandemic, compared to before. Broadly speaking, people across all three countries shopped less frequently during lockdown and there was an overall reduction in the consumption of fresh foods, but an increase in the consumption of food with a longer shelf life. Overall, there was an increase in food consumption, perhaps because more people were at home more often making it likely that food items like snacks would be consumed more regularly.

Such findings suggest that it is more difficult for people to eat healthily during a COVID-19 confinement in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, some diverging trends were observed in all food categories analysed, with some people decreasing and others increasing their consumption frequencies, demonstrating that the pandemic had very different impacts on people’s lifestyles and food consumption patterns. For example, whilst almost all households made a significant shift to take-away food and to home delivery typically ordered online, the types of food purchased and consumed often differed according to the degree of income loss during the pandemic. Those whose incomes decreased the most tended to shift to more affordable food and away from fresh foods, whilst those with much lower income loss instead tended to seek compensation for the huge inconveniences of lockdowns and changing routines by shifting to greater consumption of ready-made meals, sweets and alcohol.

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Differences between national food cultures were also important, for example in relation to eating during the day given that midday lunch is typically the most affected by COVID-19 related to whether work canteens were closed and the increase in the online home working. In Denmark, the consumption of fresh fish decreased amongst those whose work canteen was closed given that fish is a common lunch component in these canteens. In Germany, on the other hand, the consumption of cake and biscuits tended to increase among people affected by the lockdown of their physical workplace, probably because these food items are part of the traditional afternoon coffee break at home which, before the lockdown, was normally only a weekend habit. There are also often quite stark differences between population cohorts, for example in terms of household composition, so that households with children simultaneously both increase their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as of comfort foods like sweets, cake, chocolate and alcohol. This is perhaps because the adults both realize the importance of healthy food for children, whilst compensate themselves for some increase in stress levels by food indulgence.

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A closer look at the Danish study also showed how some population groups have quite significantly distinct food behaviour changes compared to other consumers during the pandemic. For example, respondents with a university education, with children, who are female and in the younger age groups, all generally think that food has increased in importance compared to other groups, eat more, spend more on food, purchase more organic food, throw less food away, plan meals more and use a greater variety of food ingredients and recipes, but also consume more alcohol. These cohorts also report the greatest changes in overall food behaviour and say they are much more likely to be committed to continue many of these changes once the pandemic has subsided.

Some very initial analysis has also been undertaken looking across the ten European countries with very large samples. For example, despite the majority of households purchasing less fresh food, most in all countries purchase more organic food and throw less food away. Conversely to possible expectations, however, it tends to be the outer western, southern and eastern European countries that have changed more in these directions compared with north-central countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. The conjecture is that the former countries had not already moved as far towards organic purchases and lower food waste compared to the latter, so the quite dramatic food related changes caused by the pandemic, and the ensuing greater overall focus on food, propelled them to catch up. Further research will be needed on this, as in relation to the other initial findings.

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