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Food for Thought: The biggest edible trends from the past year

While plenty has changed over the past year, food and drink has been one of the sectors hit most – particularly hospitality. But this has unleashed a myriad of new trends in the space, as business owners big and small have gone to great lengths to bring us the food we want, need, and never knew we couldn’t live without.

Here we reflect on how the food industry has adapted and accelerated over the past year– and consider what comes next in this delicious space…

Food matters

In this modern world, where virtually everything is available “on demand” and a hot meal is often just a few taps away, it can be easy to take food for granted. But many of us will remember the beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020, when for a few weeks, it was difficult to get hold of essential items– particularly for those shielding at home. It was the UK’s small businesses that came to the rescue…

“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t know if we’d have to shut down our business,” says Joe Moruzzi, owner of custom no-bake cheesecake company, Pleesecakes. “We adapted using our suppliers. When people couldn’t get produce from supermarkets, we stepped in selling things like pasta and eggs – and offered essential packs for people that were vulnerable at home.”

This really captures the spirit of lockdown throughout the UK and beyond. From the start, we were all in it together, buying supplies for our neighbours and supporting the people around us. People have shown consistent support for small and independent businesses; Barclaycard data from April showed face-to-face spending at food and drink specialist stores – including butchers, bakeries and greengrocers – that saw a significant uplift (63.7 per cent) compared to 2019, showing that shoppers continued to visit local retailers. In fact, four in ten (42 per cent) consumers say they’re more likely to shop locally than before the pandemic, and almost half (47 per cent) describe the high street as the heart of their community, which they are keen to support.

While there were shortages here and there throughout the year, for the most part supermarkets were able to get back to “normal”– albeit, with masks, outdoor queues, newly-increased contactless limits and a host of other measures intended to keep shoppers safe.

But when most of the UK was staying at home, food and drink became more important than ever. Social media was flooded with our photographs of banana bread, and those who could took extra care to treat themselves at the weekend, with ambitious home-cooked meals, takeaway treats and to-your-door meal kits.

Creativity has soared

In an attempt to recreate the restaurant experience at home, according to Barclaycard data

10 per cent of Brits tried a DIY meal kit for the first time during lockdown. This happily coincided with a record number of people setting up new businesses, almost half a million according to data from Companies House, with take-away food shops or mobile food stands some of the most popular ventures.

But, of course, more businesses mean more competition. As SMEs have sought to come up with a unique selling point, creativity has flourished in the food and drink sector with vegan junk food, Greek meal kits, BBQ boxes, artisan pasta, postbox brownies, cocktail hour, doughnuts that are practically an art form and pretty much any other tasty treat you can think of – now at a doorstep near you.

This creativity has meant that food and drink retailers are now primed and ready for the next stage. Many didn’t skip a beat when pivoting to a takeaway service and now business owners are agile, ready with food for how we live now. First, there was the big question of 2020: “Does a scotch egg constitute a “substantial meal?”. Vendors then became busy prepping picnic hampers,  and even arranging for them to be delivered directly to the park where people are enjoying socially-distanced reunions with friends and family.

So, what next?

At last, things are beginning to pick up in the hospitality and leisure space. According to our data released one week after the 12 April easing of restrictions that allowed outside openings, spending at pubs and bars saw a huge spike, surging 1,390 per cent week-on-week. With hospitality venues allowed to re-open indoors from 17 May, in the week that followed revenues across the sector were up 43 per cent week-on-week, and up 8.6 per cent compared to 2019, according to further Barclaycard data. Pubs and bars saw significant growth, with transaction values up 162 per cent week-on-week and similar growth was recorded at restaurants, which saw a 58 per cent spike in the total amount spent.

SMEs are now more optimistic about the future and Barclaycard's latest SME Barometer showed hospitality and leisure SMEs anticipate 21 per cent revenue increase as restrictions continue to ease. The data also pointed to over a quarter (29 per cent) of hospitality and leisure SMEs expecting to see higher demand between now and 21 June, when most restrictions are expected to be lifted, compared to pre-COVID-19. This is due to customers being less likely to go abroad (79 per cent), pent up demand after months of lockdown (66 per cent), and visits to hospitality venues to meet up with family and friends (65 per cent). Also, hospitality and leisure venues taking reservations are currently booked at half (49 per cent) of their capacity, with more than a third (35 per cent) expecting customers will need to book at least five days in advance to secure a reservation for mid-June.

Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments, said: “As restrictions lift, it’s reassuring to see more optimism from our SMEs, with expectations of a long overdue boost for the hospitality and leisure sector. We’re looking forward to seeing this confidence translate into sales, and we continue to support small businesses as they further increase their stronghold in the UK economy.”