Spam and pilchards are back as cost of living crisis makes cooks more thrifty

Sourdough out, white sliced in – Waitrose says shoppers are ‘making little downgrades’ and choosing cheaper cuts

The cost of living crisis has put home cooks on a war footing with a new “thrifty” mindset boosting supermarket sales of nostalgic canned foods, including Spam and pilchards, as well as cheap cuts such as fish heads.

With official figures showing food price inflation running at nearly 15%, Waitrose said its customers are seeking prudent alternatives for mealtimes and making small downgrades such as swapping sourdough for sliced white bread and olive oil for cheaper vegetable oil.

In its annual food and drink report, Waitrose says sales of Spam, which costs £3 for a large tin, are up by 36% this year. If you are wondering what people are making with these processed slabs of pork and ham, searches for the “spam fritters with crushed peas” recipe on its website are up more than 80%.

 A fish head
Waitrose says the ‘use-it-all trend’ and move to cheaper slow cooking seemed to be behind sales of beef shin, ox cheek and lamb neck, with sales of fish heads up 34%. Photograph: Waitrose/PA

Martyn Lee, the supermarket’s executive chef, said the cost of living squeeze was getting people to “think creatively” and explore more affordable cuts of meat and protein. Its customers were also getting more adventurous with their cooking and looking farther afield for inspiration.

“Fish head soups and curries have long been popular in Asia,” Lee said. “For Spam, social media also plays a part, as does a sense of nostalgia and novelty. After taking the initial plunge, people realise it’s actually a versatile ingredient.”

With Britons forced to dramatically change how they shopped during Covid lockdowns many had already fallen back in love with tinned food with everything from corned beef to beans, pulses and fish enjoying a popularity not seen since the rationing of the second world war. The cause has also been helped by the championing of high-profile food writers such as Jack Monroe.

The Waitrose report, which is based on analysis of its sales data for the past 12 months as well as a poll of 2,000 consumers, said three out of four shoppers were now more mindful about what they are spending. Over a third were shopping around for bargains with one in four keeping an eye out for the yellow stickers on reduced items.

The upmarket chain, which is competing against cheaper rivals such as Aldi and Lidl to hang on to shoppers, said some ingredients were also being dropped from shopping lists.

What it describes as “little downgrades” includes using chicken thighs instead of breasts to make economical midweek traybakes and buying sliced white bread instead of artisan loaves. Sales of sliced white loaves are up by nearly a fifth.

Cooks have also been looking for inventive ways to save money on the foods that risen in price the most. With a pack of butter costing 28% more than this time last year, online searches for “homemade butter” have exploded, Waitrose said.


Zoe Wood

The GuardianTramp

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