2022: Looking back at a year in fine food

25 January 2023, 08:42 AM
  • Speciality Food reflects on how the food and drink sector adapted to political uncertainty, a cost-of-living crisis and post-Brexit recovery last year
2022: Looking back at a year in fine food

The year opened with the return of Veganuary and Dry January, and fine food retailers certainly cashed in. The month also marked one year since the official start of Brexit, and we examined how the end of the transition period would affect indies. We also explored how consumers were becoming more sustainable, and the high street looked set to launch into post-Covid recovery.

As businesses and consumers adjusted to the new normal, hope was on the horizon for post-Covid recovery. But in February 2022, war broke out between Ukraine and Russia. As key exporters of wheat and oil, this certainly set the tone for the year ahead as prices for these products skyrocketed and shortages occurred. 

A new report released at the start of the month revealed that the farm retail industry is invaluable to both the fine food sector and the UK food industry, generating a staggering £1.4 billion in sales nationwide. Later on, Rishi Sunak, the then-chancellor, announced his spring budget. Independent retailers were disappointed with his measures as they didn’t go far enough to help small businesses recover from Covid restrictions, effectively signalling the end of state support for the sector.

The month of April began with fears that the UK was rapidly running out of sunflower oil as the war in Ukraine continued, leading to higher demand for premium oils and heavy price increases. With uncertainty in the air, the EIT’s latest Trust Report showed that consumers trust farmers and small retailers the most within the food sector, restoring faith in the sector. 

In May, the dairy industry faced a real crisis as fuel, fertiliser and feed costs spiralled out of control as the war in Ukraine raged on. In fact, according to one farmer in Oxfordshire, it “turbocharged inflation to levels the like of which I’ve never seen in 30 years of farming”. The Queen’s Speech, conducted by her son Charles due to her ill health, did little to reassure struggling businesses, with its ambitions for levelling up falling short for many. As inflation rose to 9% in mid-May, the government made a U-turn on planned HFSS measures, claiming it would help keep food affordable for struggling families, much to the dismay of health charities. 

The Queen’s platinum jubilee weekend on the 4-5th June was a success for the high street, as footfall and trade increased, contributing to post-Covid recovery. Later in the month, Boris Johnson’s new food strategy for England was released, revealing a failure to address various recommendations for improving the food industry set out by Henry Dimbleby in the National Food Strategy. Commenting on Johnson’s plan, Dimbleby told The Guardian, “It’s not a strategy. It doesn’t set out a clear vision as to why we have the problems we have now and it doesn’t set out what needs to be done.”

After a loss of confidence in his abilities as prime minister, Boris Johnson announced in July he would be stepping down in September, opening up the gates for a leadership contest. This worried industry bodies, as businesses desperately needed stability during economic uncertainty. Also this month, Speciality Food celebrated its 20th anniversary and looked back at two decades of fine food in the July/August issue. 

By August, just two candidates were left in the leadership battle: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. The farming industry made a public plea to the two hopefuls, calling on them to champion British agriculture, as the National Farmers Union (NFU) revealed that £22 million worth of fruit and vegetables has been wasted directly because of workforce shortages in the first half of 2022 alone. Similarly, environmental campaigners put pressure on Sunak and Truss to take a stand on plastics.

At the start of September, Liz Truss was announced as prime minister of the UK after receiving 81,326 votes to Rishi Sunak’s 60,399 to become the Tory party’s new leader. Her first task was to announce an energy support plan; however, this was not well received by industry bodies as help for businesses wasn’t laid out clearly. Near the end of the month, we said goodbye to Her Majesty the Queen, who passed away after 70 years on the throne. Her son Charles I was announced as the new King, with an official coronation set for May 2023. 

With Liz Truss’ economic plan causing global panic, the pound collapsed and exchange ranges spiralled downwards. Moreover, Truss’ new environmental minister considered scrapping the ELMs, a “catastrophic mistake for nature” according to the Soil Association. After just 44 days in power, Liz Truss then resigned from her position as prime minister, leaving businesses with another period of uncertainty as a second government reshuffle took place. Her leadership battle opponent, Rishi Sunak, was named prime minister, becoming the country’s third leader in two months. October ended with food inflation hitting a new 40-year high of 14.5%

This month, it was revealed that over half (56%) of Brits had ditched environmentally friendly products due to the cost-of-living crisis. In fact, two in five (39%) also said organic and fairtrade foods were now bottom of their shopping lists despite previously being ‘must have’ items. In mid-November, we opened nominations for Inspirational Cheese Retailers 2023, with the winners set to be announced in April 2023. New chancellor Jeremy Hunt set out his Autumn Statement, with measures that included a promise to soften a blow for businesses on business rates, benefitting about 700,000 businesses, employment allowance to be retained at a higher level of £5,000, and the minimum wage for over 23s to be raised by 9.7% to £10.42 next year. November ended with severe fears of turkey and egg shortages over Christmas as the avian flu epidemic intensified, and farmers called on the new government to take action.

At the start of December, research from Vypr revealed nine in 10 people were concerned about Christmas costs, with 56% saying they are very concerned and 33% feeling moderately concerned. This was largely due to the continued inflation rises, with the rate sitting at 11.1%, the highest in 41 years. But in the lead-up to Christmas, there was good news. Brexit chaos was finally settling as UK exports were on the rise and bricks and mortar was back on the agenda. Independent retailers had a busy and successful Christmas, with total UK footfall for 2022 was just 11.8% below pre-pandemic levels, a big improvement on 2021 footfall which was 33.2% below pre-pandemic levels according to research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and IGD.

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