AN INTERNATIONAL study has been launched to explore changing consumer food habits as result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since lockdown measures of varying severity were introduced worldwide, there has been a significant increase in reports of direct purchasing, with many more people choosing to buy locally produced food.

However, evidence has also highlighted that supermarkets and online retailers are experiencing record growth, with images of empty shelves exploding on social media during the early stages of panic-buying.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute are part of an EU Consortium which has launched this large-scale study of the pandemic’s impact on how people relate to food, including food waste, at this time of crisis.

Scientists are particularly interested in finding out if people are adopting more sustainable behaviours, and to see if these habits continue once the pandemic has passed. In Scotland, research will feed into recommendations under the Good Food Nation Bill, shaping future food systems in line with public heath and climate change objectives.

Leading the research at the James Hutton Institute is Dr Liz Dinnie, who said: “We are currently experiencing unprecedented circumstances where most people are forced to spend much more time at home. That also means many people eat more meals at home than before the lockdown. So far, we have no idea what consequences that has, e.g. in terms of how balanced the diets are, or how food systems in rural and urban areas might be affected.

"There are many contradictory trends, for instance a focus on healthy eating for strengthening the immune system, yet an increase in the sales of sweets, chocolate and snacks," she continued.

“With our research, we want to find out how food-related habits are changing in the population and what this means more widely, particularly in terms of food systems, sustainability and for tackling food poverty. We hope the results will give recommendations to decision-makers in the food sector and at policy level on how to respond to changes and make food systems fit for future food-related habits following the current pandemic.”

The Institute’s chief executive, Professor Colin Campbell, added: “Our food systems need to change if we are to change our trajectory on climate change. We also need a new relationship with food for the sake of our health. As the current pandemic has shown, underlying health is critical to how we come through this, so we desperately need to know what people think and how they are changing if at all," he stressed. "It is only through understanding the changes taking place at this time that we can help to design food systems and value chains that are both socially just and environmentally sustainable.”

Researchers have created a questionnaire open to anyone over the age of 18 and are urging as many people as possible to respond before the end of June.

The survey can be accessed by visiting