The UK’s biggest grocery retailer is targeting the growing number of Britons who live or eat alone by significantly expanding its range of single-portion foods.
Tesco is selling solitary beef burgers and steak fillets, hand-sized packets of new potatoes and broccoli – and even shrunk-down bottles of sauvignon blanc – as it targets an increasingly important demographic. The retailer has increased the size of its single-serve range by nearly 40% this year to 430 products.
The growing number of single-person households has been one of the biggest societal trends since the second world war. Official figures released last year counted 7.7m such households compared with 6.6m in 1996. The shift is particularly marked among baby boomers, with a 53% increase in the number of 45 to 64-year-olds living alone because of declining marriage rates and divorce.
“It’s about offering choice,” said Kate Ewart, Tesco’s head of product development. “Time-pressed customers want to find healthy, quick and convenient meals in the size that matches the occasion.”
The meals-for-one market is worth more than £20bn, with analysis of purchasing habits showing choices heavily skewed towards buying ready meals, salads and quick meals like beans on toast. This has led big food manufacturers such as Premier Foods, which own brands including Batchelors and Lloyd Grossman, to launch convenience foods such as single-serve pasta pots and sauce pouches.
For decades supermarkets have focused on feeding families with buy-one-get-one-free promotions and supersized grocery packs that only make sense if the buyer has lots of mouths to feed. However, ever-shifting meal times in busy households mean that four in 10 meals or snacks are consumed alone, according to the grocery industry analysts Kantar Worldpanel. It calculates that Britons are eating an extra 186m meals on their own annually compared with only three years ago.
“Small households have a lot of buying power and shop very differently to family shoppers,” said Joanna Parman, an analyst at the data firm Nielsen. Its recent shopper poll found 18% shoppers wanted to buy smaller pack sizes.
“Households with one or two people are more likely to shop little and often rather than doing a large weekly shop,” she added. “It’s the older, small households that have the most dispensable income and are spending the most on food and drink.”
Tesco’s decision to offer more single meal options is not just about appealing to this group. Its research has found that increasingly families do not eat together and if they do gather around the kitchen table, they might eat different dishes as dietary regimes such as veganism surge in popularity.
New lines in the Tesco single serve-range include upmarket wood-fired pizza slices and pitta breads sold in packets of two rather than six. The retailer believes smaller packs, which can still cost more than larger packs per gram, will help households chip away at the UK’s food waste mountain.
Around £13bn of food is thrown away by households each year, according to the government’s waste advisory body, Wrap. It calculates that the average Briton wastes £200 of food a year while it rises to £700 for those with children.
“The way supermarkets are set up makes it almost impossible to shop for one,” says Philip Adcock, managing director at shopper research agency SBXL. “We have been educated to buy more for less.”
“But supermarkets are doing everything they can to be more convenient,” said Adcock, who warned their motives for backing the trend are unlikely to be entirely altruistic. “Plug your brains in customers because they are going to charge more for it.”
The big supermarkets are being forced to adapt to changing shopper behaviour as Britons shun the big weekly shop in favour of more frequent small shops at convenience stores on their way home from work or use takeaway delivery services such as Deliveroo.
Multibuy deals such as bogofs (buy one get one free), which were once a potent supermarket sales tactic, are disappearing from the aisles as big chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s focus on straightforward price cuts as they battle the fast growing German discount chains Aldi and Lidl.