Consumers crave comfort and convenience foods, Symphony IRI reveals

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UK consumers are spending more money on the nation’s favourite comfort and convenience foods despite the ongoing increase in prices, according to a new report from SymphonyIRI Group.

The findings of the report show convenience, innovation, snacking, new tastes and health are among the main drivers of growth where it’s occurring. For example, ready meals grew by almost 11% in volume over the past year, an extra £200m spent on convenience via these products alone. 

Convenience and comfort come hand in hand, said researchers. The report puts Britain’s favourite meals such as Cottage Pie, Mashed Potato, Cumberland Pie and Shepherds Pie as some of the nation’s top choices by value sales, for example.

Non-alcoholic cold drinks, such as cola, energy drinks and mineral water, have performed well. Sales of alcohol, such as lager and cider, benefited from the Royal Wedding and the Diamond Jubilee, according to Symphony IRI. Unfortunately, these two national events did not lead to the expected surge in sales of party food, as this sector did not show an increase but remained flat in comparison with last year, researchers added. This may have been due to poor weather conditions.

Innovation and changing tastes have driven growth, according to the report. New products such as Belvita, Maggi So Juicy, Colman’s Season & Shake, Monster Energy Drink, Lynx Attract for Her, Cadbury Twirl Bites and Regaine, have all contributed.

As the UK consumers’ tastes change, there has been an increase in certain bread products, such as bagels (up by 16%); wraps (up by 10%) and brioche rolls (up by 24%); plus a rise in the use of almonds, walnuts and pistachios (9% increase) possibly caused by the increased interest in baking, spurred by the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, said researchers.

As we celebrated a period of athleticism in the UK, it seems the nation turned to healthier food options, said Symphony IRI. Unflavoured mineral water sales increased by 6% (£22m) and flavoured waters by 7% (£14m) – a total of 65m litres. 

Hearty, healthy breakfasts such as porridge also increased during this period by 4%. The report also reveals a strong move to a healthier lifestyle as smokers bought 8% more smoking cessation products worth £31m.

Aside from food and drinks, one of the best performing sectors has been pet food, with growth coming from the dry sector (at 4.4%). 

Ladies toiletries have increased, as the report shows a rise in female toiletry gift sets being purchased, costing £17m, 9% more nail make-up at £9m and 6% more lip make-up at £5m. Dry shampoo is making an impact gaining £6m, up 19% in volume terms and there has been an emergence of a new sector in hair colour remover.

Although there has been a value growth for two thirds of the categories, half of this has been driven up purely by price increases. Two thirds of the 300 categories measured are showing annual volume decline at present.

Prices for packaged groceries have been rising in excess of 3% since August 2011, reaching a peak of 5% in March 2012 and since falling to 3% in July 2012. Packaged grocery prices are 8% higher than they were in January 2010.

Tim Eales, strategic insight director at SymphonyIRI Group, said: “Every day that price inflation remains above wage inflation means that somebody, somewhere, is worse off. This is causing packaged grocery to shrink slowly by volume. However, we are spending more money as we are forced to buy at higher prices. Despite this, opportunities still exist to cash in on changing tastes and the hunger for interesting new ideas.”

SymphonyIRI Group’s Snapshot report contains data extracted from 300 reported categories across all SIG outlets over the period 52 w/e 7 July 2012 versus 52 w/e 9 July 2011. Categories include packaged foods, alcohol (excl wine), non-alcoholic drinks, household products, personal care (incl cosmetics), health care, pet food and confectionery.