Supermarkets are reporting a boom in sales of fine foods, including oysters, champagne and caviar, as people spurn dining out on special occasions and instead celebrate in style at home.
Far from embracing austerity in a time of crisis, consumers are developing a taste for luxury, with Waitrose saying that sales of its caviar were up 52 per cent year on year. Jars of Arenkha - a caviar substitute created from smoked herring - were also up 47 per cent.
At the same time, sales of oysters jumped by 24 per cent and magnums of champagne were up 48 per cent. English sparkling wine had its best ever year, the supermarket said.
Martyn Lee, an executive chef at Waitrose, said: "Hosting friends and family at home continues to be popular, with many of us opting for higher quality products and more luxury ingredients in our cooking to impress our guests.”
Food industry experts noted that more people had been experimenting with dishes at home, whether that’s adding caviar to a white chocolate dessert or adding a spoonful on top of a salmon roll.
Fine food producers said that demand has risen considerably since the start of the Covid pandemic as people had been trying to recreate restaurant experiences at home. Not only are they investing in luxury foods but they are also spending on crockery and table decorations. The trend continued even as hospitality businesses reopened their doors when restrictions eased.
Exmoor Caviar, which makes sustainable caviar at a sturgeon farm in Devon, said it had sold out for two years in a row, with sales up 35 per cent year on year in 2020 and 45 per cent in 2021.
Kenneth Benning, chief executive of the company, said: “It’s the feeling of having something special that people are after. Customers are a lot more adventurous in their culinary tastes than they were 20 years ago. It’s definitely something that is more mainstream now.”
The company supplies 74 Michelin star restaurants in the UK but has increasingly been serving customers who are purchasing directly from its website. It also stocks its caviar in Harrods, where 50g tin sells for £100.
Francesco di Maddaloni, managing director of Mr Truffle London, which sources Italian truffles from the Apennines, said that demand soared last year as people “spent more time at home, finding recipes and cooking". Sales are twice as high as they were in 2019 and many customers are ordering truffles for the first time.
Although inflation is rapidly eating into household budgets and the cost of living is rising as a result, analysts said that consumers were still making the most out of special occasions.
Mintel, the market research company, said sales of champagne were up 30 per cent on 2019 levels last year. Jack Duckett, associate director at the company, said: “The lifting of social restrictions has given the nation cause for celebration and brought back the social aspect that, for many, makes special occasions worth marking with premium food and drink. This drove sales growth for all of the leading Champagne brands. Own-label Champagne sales also grew strongly in the year to August 2021.”
Richard Bainbridge, a chef who has worked in Michelin star restaurants across the world, said diners had become more adventurous.
"People are realising that they can have these culinary experiences at home," he said.
"The fact that people are ordering truffles for their pasta...that was unheard of two years ago but now it's becoming more normal. It just means we have to keep up in the restaurant world because what was once considered refined isn't necessarily anymore."