Each year, the FOOD programme, an initiative coordinated by Edenred which works to make “the healthy choice the easy choice” for both workers and restaurants, carries out an annual evaluation of the programme. As part of this, barometers are conducted among employees and restaurants to find out their habits and perception of healthy eating during the working day.
In 2021, the FOOD barometers focused specifically on Covid-19’s impact on employees’ workday eating habits, particularly on their purchasing power, nutritional habits, and the use of digital means to get food. The barometers also looked at the measures taken by restaurant owners to cope with the crisis, while responding as best as they can to their customers’ changing expectations. In total, more than 66,400 employees and 1,370 restaurant owners in 20 countries responded to the FOOD survey, here are the highlights of what they revealed.
1. Digital channels helped support restaurants
New digital sales channels enabled employees to continue to order food from their favourite restaurants during the crisis, and these new selling processes have won customers over, with 67% saying they have ordered through delivery or takeaway services during the pandemic. Meanwhile 41% ordered from restaurants they knew, proving the loyalty of Meal Voucher users. These services have attracted new customers as well as retaining regular ones, with 52% of restaurant owners having noticed new customers during the pandemic and 49% believing Meal Vouchers helped retain customers.
Not having access to a healthy diet is putting people at risk and shows how the pandemic has increased social and health inequalities.
2. Purchasing power decreased for 4 in 10 consumers in Europe
The pandemic is exacerbating difficulties for the most vulnerable groups and posing severe challenges for our economies, with increasing inequalities. Data shows that 4 in 10 consumers in Europe experienced a decrease in their household income because of the pandemic and 1 in 10 European workers live in poverty. The World Bank says the current crisis is responsible for a widespread increase in food insecurity, particularly among the most vulnerable, and is expected to persist in the years to come.
Economic uncertainty and the rise of food prices is having a considerable impact on people’s mental health as they worry about their purchasing power, and some are unable to buy healthy food, which is needed to support a strong immune system. Sales of cheaper and low-quality food increased during the pandemic, as well as the rate of obesity in many countries, mostly due to consumption of processed food and lack of physical activity, despite high-level consumption of processed food being associated with mortality from Covid-19. Not having access to a healthy diet is therefore putting people at risk and shows how the pandemic has increased social and health inequalities.
3. Meal vouchers are a safety net
Respondents to the barometers said that meal vouchers represent a safety net when it comes to covering their food budget: 51% of Austrian, 31% of French and 64% of Spanish workers said they would go to restaurants less if they no longer received meal vouchers, and workers in several countries said they would have poorer eating habits if they no longer received meal vouchers (18% in Austria, 17% in Slovakia, 23% in Argentina, 21% in Uruguay).
4. Although obesity increased, a balanced diet remains a priority for employees
Meal vouchers are clearly an efficient way to promote preventative health measures and make access to more healthy and affordable food options for workers easier. Employees’ greater awareness of the importance of healthy eating, an issue highlighted by previous FOOD barometers, was also shown in the 2021 survey. External studies have also shown that people have been more conscious about their health during the pandemic, with 69% of respondents who receive meal vouchers saying the crisis made them more conscious about the need for a healthy diet. 79% now expect a healthier offer from restaurants and the demand for fresh products and clear indication of nutrition labelling is particularly strong.
5. Restaurants want to serve more balanced meals
Restaurant owners showed a growing interest in practical advice on how to serve more balanced meals, and the pandemic also encouraged some of them (35%) to change their habits and suppliers, opting for healthier and local products. 59% also claimed to be aware that customers would notice and appreciate the offer of healthy and balanced meals. Likewise, healthy nutrition promotion can also encourage positive changes regarding environmental impact of new sales and consumption methods, as 42% of restaurant owners introduced measures to reduce and manage the waste produced by food delivery and take-away in a sustainable way, and countries participating in the FOOD programme have in general shown even greater sensitivity to this than other countries.