How much is a pint of milk? Food and drink consumption, expenditure and costs in the UK

This afternoon’s Opposition Day debate on food banks and the cost of living promises to sustain focus upon the cost of food and drink in the UK. The debate follows publication of the All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry’s Feeding Britain report which, co-chaired by Rt Hon Frank Field MP and the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, examined hunger and food poverty in the UK.

Contending that “over the last four years prices have risen faster than wages” and that “low pay and failings in the operation of the social security system continue to be the main triggers for food bank use”, the Opposition’s motion brings to mind that question much loved by breakfast-show interrogators: how much is a pint of milk?

This blog piece provides an overview of data available from the ONS’s annual Living Costs and Food Survey and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Family Food Datasets in order to inform readers of the breadth of statistical information available for analysis. Particular attention is paid to the cost of food and drink, rates of consumption and changes to weekly levels of expenditure over time. Where possible, information is analysed according to personal income.

For the record: according to the Office for National Statistics the retail price of a pint of pasteurised milk was, on average, 46p as of 11 November 2014. Of 233 quotations studied 80% ranged between 45p and 79p.

Food prices 2007 – 2013: how much is a pint of milk?

The Living Costs and Food Survey is a key source of economic and social data for government, collecting information on household spending patterns across the UK. Collected throughout the year, results from the survey inform calculation of the Consumer Price Index and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ annual Family Food publications. Data throughout this blog piece are from the Living Costs and Food Survey.

Indices are a common means of presenting proportionate changes over time, allowing users to analyse trends in a long running time series. Figure 1 displays average food price indices for selected food groups from 2007 – 2013. Guidance on indices is available from the Commons Library Standard Note Index Numbers.

Figure 1: Average food price indices for selected food groups 2007 – 2013
2007 = 100; real terms CPI adjustment
chart 1

Note: This chart uses a broken Y axis
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

Figure 1 shows that, accounting for inflation, the prices of fruit, eggs, bread, poultry, vegetables, alcoholic drinks and milk have all risen since 2007. In 2013 the price of fruit was, in real terms, 15% greater than in 2007; over the same period bread had increased by 8%, poultry by 6% and vegetables by 5%. The price of eggs peaked over this period in 2010 at 124% of their 2007 cost; in 2013 the price of eggs was 11% higher than in 2007. The price of milk peaked over this period in 2009 at 115% of their 2007 cost; in 2013 the price of milk was 2% of its 2007 cost.

Quantities purchased by income: how much do we eat?  

Further data is available on the quantity of food we eat on a weekly basis. Figures 2, 3 and 4 display data for fruit, vegetables, alcoholic drinks, milk, meat and bread – but a small selection of the wide variety of food types and categories analyses by the Living Costs and Food Survey.

Figures 2, 3 and 4 show the average purchased quantities of food or drink per person according to income per week in 2013. Only ‘household’ food and drink is displayed, meaning that items purchased for consumption outside of the home (such as in restaurants) are excluded. Data is displayed per income decile: ‘1’ represents the lowest 10% of people by income in the UK, ‘10’ the highest. Household income data has been equivalised, meaning survey data has been adjusted to allow for different household size.

Figure 2: Purchased quantities of household fruit and vegetables by income decile (equivalised income) 2013
Averages per person per week (grams)
chart 2

Notes: Data series standard error 5% – 10% per decile
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

In 2013 an average of 873g of fruit and 934g were purchased per person per week by people in the 1st income decile; people in the 5th decile purchased 1056g of fruit and 978g of vegetables; people in the 10th decile purchased 1473g of fruit and 1284g of vegetables.

Figure 3: Purchased quantities of household milk and alcohol by income decile (equivalised income) 2013
Averages per person per week (millilitres)
Chart 3

Notes: Data series standard error 5% – 10% per decile
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

In 2013 an average of 1772ml of milk and 420ml of alcoholic drinks were purchased per person per week by people in the 1st income decile; people in the 5th decile purchased 1912ml of milk and 602ml of alcoholic drinks; people in the 10th decile purchased 1746ml of milk and 952ml of alcoholic drinks. Further analysis of alcohol consumption is available from the ONS General Lifestyle Survey.

Figure 4: Purchased quantities of household meat and bread by income decile (equivalised income) 2013
Averages per person per week (grams)
Chart 4

Notes: Data series standard error 5% – 10% per decile
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

In 2013 an average of 759g of meat and 595g of bread were purchased per person per week by people in the 1st income decile; people in the 10th income decile purchased 778g if meat and 535g of bread.

UK average expenditure: the weekly shop

Average weekly expenditure on food and drink – for both household consumption and outside the home – can be estimated using the Living Costs and Food Survey.

Figure 5, an area chart, displays average weekly expenditure on food and drink per person in the UK. Per week in 2013 individuals spent £9 on food and non-alcoholic drinks outside the home, £3 on alcoholic drinks outside the home, £27 on food and non-alcoholic drinks for consumption at home and £3 on alcoholic drinks for home consumption.

Figure 5: UK average household and eating out expenditure on food and drink 2001-02 to 2013
Average pounds per person per week, real terms (CPI) 2013 prices

Chart 5

Note: Data for the Food Survey was collected according to financial year 2001-02 to 2005-06 and on an annual basis 2006 to 2013
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

Trends in personal expenditure over time: changes to the cost of living?

Finally, the percentage change in personal expenditure on all food and drink over time is analysed by figure 6 according to income decile. Four charts are provided, displaying (clockwise) percentage change in 2013 compared to 2010, to 2007, to 2004/05 and to 2001/02. It is interesting that a similar pattern is shown for all these periods. In recent years the tendency has been for a decline in food and drink spending in the lower and highest deciles; this is in contrast with that of the 6th to 8th deciles who generally have seen a rise in real spending.

Figure 6: Percentage change in expenditure per person per week on all food and drink by income decile (equivalised income)
Real terms (CPI) 2013 prices
Chart 6

Notes: Data series standard error 2.5% – 5% for all deciles; data was collected per financial year 2001-02 to 2005-06
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey (11 December 2014)

Richard Keen