Margareta Pagano: We're a nation divided by our eating habits

Half of us spent more on food at Christmas, the rest spent less. It's a widening gap that politicians of every hue should be worrying about

If we are what we eat, then how we eat makes us who we are. If the way the UK ate over Christmas is anything to go by, we are splitting into two nations faster than ever. Research from consumer expert Kantar WorldpanelUK, shows that almost half the country spent less on food this Christmas. The other half of the population increased its spending by 4.5 per cent, which happens to be the rate of food inflation.

The latest supermarket results also showed our eating habits are changing. A growing number of people are gobbling up more premium food from shops such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer but a bigger chunk are spending more with discounters such as Aldi, Lidl and Iceland. Indeed, the discount chains had their best-ever Christmas – sales at Aldi rose a staggering 30 per cent and Lidl grew 10.8 per cent. Sales at Iceland, which has only 2.2 per cent of the overall market, rose to a record 9.7 per cent.

Discounters' sales usually fall at Christmas because people treat themselves and trade up. This year, those discounters were clever, offering customers more premium products such as geese, venison and fine wines at budget prices. Smart – it keeps people in the stores.

Even though they have enjoyed such good Christmas sales, retailers at the top and bottom ends of the food chain are still relatively small in market share. Although it has such a great profile, Waitrose has only about 5 per cent of the market while the discounters between them are about 6 per cent so they've far to go to catch up with the big boys. Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons still dominate the market with 77 per cent between them. But ironically they are the ones being the most squeezed as their middle-income customers are suffering the biggest drop in real income for decades. You could see how fierce competition is becoming between Sainsbury's and Tesco after they posted their figures.

In an entertaining move, Sainsbury's sent emails to the City's food retail analysts, claiming that Tesco had flattered its own figures by using Clubcard vouchers to bulk up its sales. It is splitting hairs to say which one had the better festive season as it is difficult to compare like-with-like sales, and they have different trading periods. Tesco, which has 30 per cent of the market, will have hated that Sainsbury's is the only one to have increased market share over Christmas and is now at about 17 per cent. Tesco will be delighted sales were up after last year's disastrous performance. It is easy to chuckle at the rivalry between the two – they are like two tuck-shop bully boys slugging it out at the school gate. However, their competition tends to keep prices down, which has to be good news for the consumer.

Of much greater concern is the threat of soaring food prices in the UK and worldwide. The cost of bread, fruit and vegetables is this year set to shoot up well above inflation because the wet weather has led to shortages. Some analysts predict inflation could rise by 6 per cent. So how will the food retailers react?

Competition will get tougher as retailers try to keep prices down, tightening up on suppliers as they did with the milk industry. Expect Germany's giants, Aldi and Lidl, to continue expanding into Middle England as shoppers continue to trade down. Aldi has just 3 per cent of the UK market with 421 shops but is opening a shop a week in the UK and is looking at the high street now that there is so much empty space.

If politicians – both left and right – are serious about their One Nation credentials, they should keep an eye on this widening food gap as its effects may be too much to stomach.

Cameron cannot continue to act the reluctant bride with Europe

David Cameron must be feeling sore. He's just had one of the worst weeks ever in the UK's tortuous relations with Europe; and that was just from his friends.

First to give him a whipping were some of the UK's most pro-European businessmen ranging from the CBI's Sir Roger Carr to Sir Richard Branson. They told him to leave Europe alone, that our interests are best served by being at the centre.

Then came the telling off from the Obama administration when the US's secretary for European affairs, Philip Gordon, said the UK risked being isolated if it were to go ahead with an "in-out" referendum. More menacing, perhaps, was his warning that the US would not consider a Brexit as enhancing our special relationship.

If that were not enough, Cameron was then told by one of Angela Merkel's closest allies not to blackmail his fellow member states with threats of a public vote.

So it will be fascinating to see how Cameron reacts to the publication this week of a "Manifesto for Change" from the Fresh Start Project, a cross-party research group set up by three eurosceptic but pro-Europe Tory MPs. Fresh Start wants a fundamental renegotiation of some of the most basic EU policies. This includes five treaty changes and another 12 reforms that can be carried out under existing treaties.

Their suggestions present Cameron with a great opportunity to either put up or shut up. They should be debated in the Commons immediately and given a good airing otherwise the European question will continue to tear apart the Tory party, if not the country.

The PM is known to be privately sympathetic to many of the FSP's reforms but what he says publicly will be leapt on by friends and foes alike. What is certain is that Cameron must get to grips with the EU before relations are damaged further. We can't keep being the reluctant bride; being half-married or half- pregnant isn't possible. If we stay in then let's do it properly. Let's say we want to renegotiate – not every member state has the same obligations – with our heads held high and take the lead. And tell the US to stuff it.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game