It’s official. Brits are munching their way through more delivered takeaways than ever, apparently increasing their waistlines and killing the high street, a recent study suggests. The question now is whether the momentum will continue.

Higher household bills and rising food prices may have led consumers to initially cut back on delivered takeaways. But in March, food inflation fell to the lowest annual rate since November 2021, while Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey expects to see inflation fall towards the government’s 2% target in May. So delivery could well be on a roll…

Driven by one of modern history’s biggest, global upheavals to life – yes, we’re harking back to the pandemic – the boom in takeout and delivered food continued even after Covid restrictions disappeared, research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, funded by the Obesity Policy Research Unit, indicates.

Consumers guzzled 50% more calories from takeaway food at the height of the pandemic than before and continued this behaviour – choosing to chow down on takeout in front of the television instead heading to pubs and restaurants – even when they didn’t have to after restrictions lifted.

Obesity Health Alliance director Katharine Jenner claimed the data proved hot food takeaways were “taking over UK high streets”, meaning “unhealthy food is so available that it’s almost unavoidable”.

How many takeaway calories do Brits consume?

The main warning from the IFS, though: Covid lockdowns could have caused major long-term impacts on the nation’s health and weight as Brits consume more calories at home from delivered takeaways.

But what do the figures say? Pre-pandemic, the IFS estimated the average UK adult consumed 270 calories from takeaways weekly, rising to 395 during the first lockdown and increasing further to 470 by England’s third lockdown in 2021. This was driven by consumers and businesses adapting to the circumstances, which saw a greater delivery offering and take-up.

Once restrictions eased and hospitality reopened, the average calorie intake from takeaways for UK adults dipped slightly to 400 per week in early 2022, but the IFS noted that was still near 50% more than pre-pandemic.

In comparison, household calories from food shopping baskets ramped up at the peak of the pandemic, but by the time restrictions vanished this dropped to normal levels.

Yet the IFS’s data only stretches to the first quarter of 2022, before the cost of living crisis, and therefore can’t determine fully if Brits have continued turning to takeaways after food prices rocketed.

However, IFS research economist Andrew McKendrick believes there has been a concrete change: “The Covid pandemic saw huge changes in both how many calories households were buying, and where they came from.”

Reliance on delivery higher now

“Lockdowns and closures of hospitality left a bigger role for consumption of food at home and for takeaways,” he continues. “The pandemic did leave one legacy, though, in the much-increased use of takeaways.”

So, will delivered takeaways maintain their hold? The IFS’s report suggests big delivery names like Uber Eats and Deliveroo are already overtaking pubs and restaurants as the main source of out-of-home meals.

Also, last month Deliveroo saw big share gains as the business experienced a “resilient year of growth”, despite the macroeconomic conditions.

Positivity continues to roll in for Deliveroo as the business reports today a growth in first quarter orders of 2% and gross transaction value up 6% year on year. 

Just Eat, which has long utilised key advertising slots on major programmes, has become something of an industry leader in takeaway delivery, so much so its UK MD Claire Pointon told The Grocer she was now keen to move the business further into non-food categories.

So yes, it is reasonable to believe delivered takeaways are and could maintain their tighter grip on consumer spend. The IFS data doesn’t show the picture to date, but if Deliveroo’s results were to be used as a barometer, it would suggest Brits haven’t yet fallen out of love with delivery, despite facing increased costs. 

But there is always a caveat, as Deliveroo founder and CEO Will Shu says, the UK and Ireland market remains “stable but uncertain”, meaning there is no room to rest on any laurels just yet.