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    More takers for processed food amid inflation crisis

    Photo: iStock

    Fresh vegetables and fish are falling off the menu. Packaged pizzas and processed meat are the dishes of the day.

    Many British households are turning away from healthier foods as rampant inflation pushes them towards cheaper processed meals, according to consumer data and experts who are worried about the nation taking a nutritional nosedive.

    Joanne Farrer used to regularly serve her three children roast beef dinners or stews packed with fresh vegetables. Now she’s more likely to give them chicken nuggets and fries or sausages and mashed potatoes, which are “cheaper and filling”.

    Her monthly welfare payment’s mostly swallowed by rent and the rising cost of gas and electricity.

    “It doesn’t seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” said the 44-year-old, who does voluntary work for a charity in the city of Portsmouth on England’s south coast.

    “You think, when’s it going to end? But it’s not.”

    As grocery prices rise across the board, the cost of fresh food has largely been outpacing processed and packaged products, according to the official UK consumer price index (CPI).

    Prices for fresh vegetables rose about 14 per cent in September versus the same month last year earlier for example, while fresh beef also jumped 14 per cent, fish 15 per cent, poultry 17 per cent, eggs 22 per cent and low-fat milk 42 per cent.

    Meanwhile, salted or smoked meat such as bacon and crisps went up a slower pace of about 12 per cent each, packaged pizzas rose nearly 10 per cent, sugary snacks like gummies increased by 6 per cent and chocolate increased by just over 3 per cent.

    Shopping habits are changing too, according to exclusive data from NielsenIQ, which created a basket of 37 food products for Reuters. Volume sales of fresh vegetables fell by more than 6 per cent and fresh meat by over 7 per cent in August, for example, while sales of snacks and candy rose almost 4 per cent.

    The data underscores the trend towards processed food implied by the CPI figures, which do not include sales, raising red flags for public health advocates.

    “There is plenty of evidence that poor diets lacking in fruit and vegetables have serious consequences for health,” said Shona Goudie, policy research manager at the Food Foundation, a British charity that promotes healthy diets.

    “We also know that cheap highly processed foods are the ones most likely to cause obesity.”

    Fresh food has become more expensive because it is more energy intensive to produce than packaged food.

    So far this year versus last year, the average price of healthier foods such as vegetables and fish have risen by more than £8 per 1,000 kcal in Britain compared with about £3 for less healthy foods like bacon and crisps, according to data from the Food Foundation.

    For some, the consequences of rising prices are dire.

    Close to 10 million adults – or one in five households – are unable to put enough food on the table, with some skipping meals or going without for an entire day, the charity’s nationwide survey carried out in late September suggests.

    That’s double the number affected in January.

    Sharron Spice, a London-based youth worker, said people visiting food banks had stopped requesting fresh food because they worried about having to use gas or electricity to cook it.

    She added that many parents would go for buy-one-get-one-free deals in supermarkets: “Cheap food like pizza and everything that’s unhealthy for you, basically.”

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