Home is where the guilt is not…

UK shoppers are expected to spend £19bn on food and drink in this festive period, according to the IGD.  Four in ten intend to do more shopping around to find the best quality product.  And a trends report suggests they want quality without guilt. Food writer Kevin Gould tells Ketchum Bites that his advice to luxury-seeking, guilt-free consumers is, simply, “Stay put.”

What went on behind closed doors used to be nobody’s business, but is now big business. Whilst the majority of us are feeling slightly poorer, our spend on food and drink this Christmas is on the up. In a market where almost all consumers research online, and after a year of often muddled corporate pronouncements plus confusing economic predictions, the net effect is that the most socially acceptable, safest way to indulge is at home.

Where the trend last decade was for families that could to have their festive blow-outs in restaurants, hotels and cruise ships, the idea of such public, conspicuous consumption seems this year to be less tasteful, more crass. Part of the reason for this flows from intelligent marketing moves to place guilt-free at the heart of its messages. These messages, from Fairtrade to Free From, and from Free Range to Recycle have hit home, and are hitting the hotel and restaurant trade, hard.

A few restaurants are making a good fist of offering their coeliac customers a safe dining experience, and it’s fashionable at the high end to offer locally sourced, low impact, carbon-calm ingredients, but the hotel trade is yet to follow suit – the extent of most hotels‘ guilt-free credentials is to content themselves with trying to save on their laundry bill in the name of saving our planet. Guiltiest in the hospitality industry are the cruise lines: taking the family on that Christmas cruise is more affordable than ever, but is like sticking two fat fingers up at the environment: on these polluting floating hotels it can feel like only the water you drink and the air you breathe are recycled.

Home is where the (guilty) heart is

All this means that this year, home is the safe haven. We’ll make those all-important economic savings by paying supermarket, and not restaurant mark-ups. We might order tap water and cheap Prosecco on a night out, but at home this Christmas we can splurge on Champagne – and just think of all those ‘greenie points’ for recycling those heavy bottles. If exploitative (but frankly, delicious) foie gras is the cocaine of foods, we’re less likely to find it, let alone consume it in public, but at home it’s a more permissible, recreational, seasonal treat.

Over a decade ago, I first suggested that we’d be calculating our consumption in terms of credits and debits – this apple balances that cookie, etc. – but for 2014 and beyond we’ll be basing our sums on guilt. Pesky calories, bonkers salt counts and full-on fat units are now background apps running constantly in our consciousness, but conscience will be front of mind, so we’ll counter-balance that tub of slaggy ice cream and Breaking Bad with giving the box set to the Oxfam shop, instead of putting it on eBay.

Guilt is a subtle, insidious virus. Those brands that invest to build our guilt-free trust will be our NBFs, our priest confessors, and our shopping therapists.