85% of British consumers say they are open to choosing food and drink from Ireland, ahead of a range of other key markets outside of Britain[1].

Bord Bia’s Virtual GB Trade Reception 2020 – ‘Building Relatioships for Growth.Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2020

The above comes from the latest insights from Bord Bia’s Brexit Consumer Pulse survey, which analyses the answers of a representative base of 1,000 UK grocery shoppers and has done over a number of periods since January 2019. Other recent research from Bord Bia’s Thinking House looks at the impact of factors including Brexit and Covid-19 on consumer behaviour, confidence and perceptions.

Against a backdrop of potential new UK trade deals, consumers’ openness to choosing food and drink from Ireland has remained high over recent months. The Brexit Consumer Pulse research, which tracks consumer sentiment in the UK to understand the impact of Brexit on grocery shoppers, shows that UK shoppers consider Irish food and drink the next best alternative to food from the UK. The results also show that UK consumers believe that Irish food and drink has greater environmental sustainability credentials than any other EU country.

When asked what Irish food and drink items UK shoppers would miss most if there were to be a reduction in availability or spike in costs after Brexit, the data revealed cheddar cheese (65%); butter (61%); and beef (53%), as the top three concerns. Among regular shoppers within these categories, 72% of regular beef buyers in the UK said they would miss Irish beef if there was an increase in price or limitation on its availability, 73% of cheese shoppers said they would miss Irish cheese, and 65% of butter buyers said they would miss Irish butter.

Other key findings from research carried out by Bord Bia’s Thinking House shows that two-thirds of UK consumers are going out less or have stopped going to restaurants altogether, meaning more special meals are being cooked at home. As people turn to home-cooking, they are looking to break up the monotony of weekday meals with weekend indulgences. For product categories like meat, fish and dairy, people could be looking for quality above all else, as these staples step up into a more indulgent and occasional role, with 40% of UK consumers saying they are enjoying cooking more now than before Covid-19[2].

Another category that has seen growth since the start of Covid-19 is mushrooms. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis consumers have looked at adding healthier ingredients into their diets, as a way of ‘Shielding’ and improving overall health. This has continued since the onset of the pandemic, with 19% of consumers choosing foods that boost immunity more often, and 22% of consumers eating more healthily for improved immunity[3]. To many, fresh food is considered healthier, so it is unsurprising to see that 37% of people have reported buying more fresh fruit and vegetables than before the pandemic[4]. One category has performed particularly well, with mushrooms consistently outperforming general vegetable sales over 2020, with the volume of mushrooms up 22% YoY week commencing 4th October 2020[5]. The success in this category is on the back of the national lockdowns, which has increased working from home for many, and the associated increase in home cooked meals. Furthermore, volume is being driven by innovation and new product development which have been reflected in the introduction of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 mushrooms.

Reflecting on the Bord Bia research studies, Donal Denvir, Bord Bia General Manager, Great Britain, said: “Despite the fact that 72% of the people in the UK feel that the current economic situation has had a negative effect on their confidence, it is really positive to see consumer perceptions of Irish food and drink remaining strong during this period of uncertainty. 34% of Irish exports are destined for the UK[6] and, as such, Bord Bia has been working to prepare food and drink suppliers in Ireland for the impact of Brexit.

Bord Bia recently published the fourth edition of its Brexit Action Plan[7] which provides practical information that Irish food and drink manufacturers can utilise in order to prepare for increased complexity in future trade with the UK. We are continuing to run our Customs Readiness Programme and in the last two weeks alone we have had more than 50 Irish companies registering to ensure that they are as prepared as they can be for the certainties that we already know that Brexit will bring, such as custom declarations.”

The Brexit Consumer Pulse results show that UK shoppers are still as concerned now as they were at the end of 2019 about the cost, quality and variety of food and drink available as a result of Brexit. When asked about the food and drink they buy for their household, almost 7 in 10 UK shoppers are concerned about the future cost of food and drink in a post Brexit economy, while a further 48% are concerned about the availability.

The strong affinity UK shoppers hold for the Republic of Ireland is further evident with 65% of UK shoppers seeing Ireland as a ‘friend’ of the UK compared to a range of other key markets.

Donal Denvir added: “With less than 40 days until the end of the Transition Period, it is now as important as ever that Irish food and drink businesses are turning their Brexit plans into actions to ensure the continued availability of the Irish produce that British consumers enjoy, whatever the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations”.

[1] Countries include France, Germany, USA, New Zealand, Australia and South America.

[2] Bord Bia’s Feeling the Pinch, November 2020

[3] Bord Bia’s GB Indicators, October 2020

[4] Bord Bia’s Feeling the Pinch, November 2020

[5] Kantar volume figure for Mushrooms in UK 24 week ending 04 October 2020

[6] 34% or €1 billion worth of food and drink was exported to the UK from Ireland in 2019

[7] There are six chapters in the Brexit Action Plan in total covering Customer Relationships, Supply Chain, Customs & Controls, Financial Resilience, Business Continuity & Emerging Risks, and Market Diversification.

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