Inflation is changing shoppers’ tastes (literally): Think spam and fish heads

It’s no secret inflation is forcing consumers around the world to reduce their spending. But it’s also affecting the kind of food they buy at the grocery store, not just how much.

A prime example comes courtesy of the U.K., which is grappling with both political turmoil and—not unrelated—a cost-of-living crisis. Last month, inflation in Britain was up 10.1% from a year earlier—make that 14.5% for food prices.

That’s translated into a growing appetite for cheaper food, including Spam. Sales of the canned meat are up 36% this year, according to an annual food and drink report from Waitrose, as Sky News reported this week.

Searches on recipes using Spam—made of ground-up pork shoulder and ham—are also up, says Waitrose, with shoppers eager to expand their repertoire beyond the classic Spamburger. (Spam kebabs, anyone?)

The company says more Brits are reducing food waste as part of a “use it all trend” and cooking cheaper cuts of meat and fish in slow cookers. Sales of fish heads are up 34% from a year ago, with shoppers using them in curries, stews, and stocks. 

Among the shoppers Waitrose surveyed, 72% said they had become more mindful of what they’re spending—not surprising given the rising prices. 

Sales of Spam, made by Minnesota-based Hormel Foods, hit record highs last year, CEO Jim Snee told CNBC last December. He said he was particularly pleased with his company’s performance given inflation, which he described as “real” and “significant.”

Of course, inflation has become more of an issue since then. Hormel Foods said in June it was increasing prices on Spam, pre-made guacamole, and other items to cover the higher costs of transportation, packaging, meat, and avocados. 

“Everybody is experiencing that broad-based inflation, but that doesn’t make the conversations any easier,” Snee told analysts.

In Britain, inflation has had major political consequences. Liz Truss, who announced her intention to resign this month after less than 50 days in office, will go down as the shortest-serving prime minister in U.K. history. After she revealed her intention to reduce taxes on the wealthiest, among other plans, critics called her “completely out of touch” with ordinary citizens hammered by the cost-of-living crisis. Markets sent the pound spiraling to record lows against the U.S. dollar as Britain’s reputation for fiscal credibility came into question.

The U.K.’s cost-of-living crisis has spelled opportunity for some companies. Discount chains Aldi and Lidl, both from Germany, are attracting more shoppers. Last month, Aldi overtook Morrisons to become Britain’s fourth-biggest supermarket chain by sales. Inflation has also helped Aldi become the fastest-growing grocer in America. 

As for Spam, Waitross has dubbed it the “comeback king of 2022.”

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