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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Research reveals escalating food prices impacting on consumer mental health

Consumer Council Northern Ireland household expenditure tracker graphic

Recent research by the Consumer Council reveals consumers feel anxious and “caught off guard” by rising food prices and wider cost of living pressures.


The research used an emotions poll to gauge consumers’ feelings in relation to rising food prices and the responses were stark, with the top four being: anxious (73%), angry (56%); frustrated (56%); and stressed (56%).


The Consumer Council held twelve focus groups between August 2022 and January 2023 to develop a greater understanding of the issues that consumers have encountered in relation to increased food prices and wider cost of living pressures.



“Food affordability is by far the largest and most dominant concern expressed by consumers across all income groups, but particularly for low-income consumers, those with young families and consumers with a disability or long-term health condition,” said Anne-Marie Murphy, Director of Strategy and Emerging Markets at the Consumer Council.


“Those we spoke to expressed surprise and disbelief at how quickly food prices had escalated, saying this had taken place so rapidly and on such a scale they felt they had been caught off guard.”



Research participants were open about discussing their experiences and fears about making ends meet, with many sharing how they have used or will soon need to access emergency support from food banks.


“Discussions often turned to the impact that rising food costs and wider cost of living pressures is having on participants mental health and feelings of social isolation,” added Anne-Marie.

 

“Yeah, we sort of try and keep our feelings to ourselves. We don't really want to show too much towards the boys. Don't want them getting worried about it. I think if they start worrying about it, then just don't know what way it's going to affect them.”

Focus Group participant, male, 40-49

 

This research comes at a time when the Consumer Council’s latest NI Household Expenditure Tracker, covering April to June 2023, shows that food and non-alcoholic beverages continue to make up the largest proportion of the lowest earning households’ basic spending each week (20.9%).



These spending categories are followed by: housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels (20.5%) and transport (12.2%).


Northern Ireland comparisons by income quartile graph

Northern Ireland comparisons by income quartile


The Tracker also shows Northern Ireland’s lowest earning households are left with less than £30 per week to spend after all essential spending (£26.81 discretionary income per week). This means there is little opportunity to set money aside for unexpected bills or to absorb further price increases.


It is these lowest earning households that have seen the weakest recovery, with their discretionary income falling 58.1% since the Cost-of-Living crisis began at the start of 2021 (£64.02 to £26.81 per week).



For further information on the research carried out with focus groups read the full report Focus on Food How cost of living pressures are affecting consumers’ food shopping and eating habits at:


The Northern Ireland Household Expenditure Tracker Q2 2023 (April to June) is available at:


For information on saving money on food please visit:

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