THE coronavirus pandemic could change eating habits “forever” and have a permanent effect on the food and drink industry, according to experts in the sector.

Ian Wright, chief executive officer of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said that while some would go out and “party like it’s 1999” post-lockdown, others would continue to steer clear of any restaurants and cafes that open, choosing instead to continue cooking at home.

A coronavirus survey has found that over one fifth of people in the UK are now cooking every meal from scratch compared with just one in eight before the lockdown.

The research for Tesco also found that households are spending more time cooking together, mealtimes are more of an occasion and over one third (35%) have become better at avoiding food waste by using leftovers.

The overwhelming majority of people asked (89%) pledged to continue making food from scratch post-lockdown and the renewed interest in cooking includes children, with many becoming involved in meal preparation and eating at the dinner table more often than before.

Professor Mike Lean, clinical research fellow at Glasgow University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing, said there was a good chance the lockdown experience would have a lasting effect.

“But you can be sure that the snack food and fizzy drinks industry, who are currently selling less than usual, will redouble their marketing efforts to lure vulnerable kids and families back to buying them,” he said.

He warned that although home baking could be seen as a great way to entertain locked down children, it often meant “comfort food” and there was a risk of increased consumption, with another long-term effect of the lockdown being weight gain.

“When people are bored or inactive they tend to eat more,” pointed out Professor Lean. “Weight gain is notoriously difficult to reverse, and leads many people into chronic ill-health over time, particularly with type 2 diabetes which is becoming horribly common in younger people.

However Professor Lean said national blood pressure could be reduced over time if more people were home cooking, as there was an opportunity to reduce salt content.

Dr Adele Dickson, health psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, agreed the lockdown had brought about behavioural change.

“For many, this may have facilitated positive change in behaviours such as increased cooking, baking, healthy eating and increased uptake of physical activity,” she said.

“There has been an increase in families cooking and baking together. This may, in part, be due to a lack of alternatives because of the closure of restaurants, cafes and takeaway provision which is incentivising people to take to the kitchen.”

However she added that the likelihood of such positive behaviour change continuing beyond lockdown was hard to predict.

“Behaviour change is difficult to maintain over time,” she said. “At present, change in behaviour such as healthy eating may partly be the consequence of a lack of alternatives and the knowledge that ‘we are all in this together’ – we receive continuous streams of unanimous messages of solidarity and social support motivating us and reinforcing positive change.”

Dr Kate Reid, lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow, said evidence people were returning to basics and home cooking could be seen from the fact that raw materials were disappearing off the shelves.

She added that after panic buying had emptied shelves at the large supermarkets more people had come to realise the value of the local shop, which was often more resilient and better able to top up supplies than the large stores.

“The need for the high street is important not just for access but for a sense of community as well,” she said.

Dr Reid pointed out that food banks are also in heavy demand and there are “deep concerns” about food poverty within families who are in receipt of school meals.

“However we must highlight the older citizens in our society who are facing acutely challenging times,” she said.

“The charity sector and in particular organisations such as Foodtrain, who we have been working with, have been instrumental in expanding their existing service to accommodate an acute rise in customers who now require food shopping to be delivered to them.”