The majority of Irish consumers are still nervous about eating out despite believing adequate Covid-19 safety measures are being taken by restaurants and other eateries, a survey by Bord Bia has found.
The agency’s latest Irish Foodservice Market Insights report suggests there is still a strong degree of caution around dining in restaurants, pubs and cafes , especially among older demographics.
The report also predicted that the sector would not fully recover until 2023 at the earliest.
It said it expected the value of the food service sector here, which includes everything from restaurants and cafes to take-away businesses and school canteens, to be €5.15 billion in 2021. This represents moderate year-on-year growth of 14.6 per cent, but remains 41 per cent off pre-pandemic turnover levels,.
The report also explored consumer attitudes to eating out, with three-quarters of Irish adults (73 per cent) saying eating out was their most-missed social activity as a result of Covid-19.
This makes eating out the most-missed social activity, compared to shopping for leisure (59 per cent), concerts, sports and live events (57 per cent) and spending time with colleagues (45 per cent), Bord Bia said.
The majority of consumers (71 per cent) said they preferred dining out rather than eating a take-away at home. Despite that growth in take-aways driven by Covid-19 restrictions is likely to continue, particularly amongst those with younger families, the report said, noting the proliferation of new take-away and delivery options.
It also highlighted that almost half (45 per cent) of respondents said that in a post-pandemic world they would be more likely to choose options that are kinder to the environment, with packaging a key influence on this. A similar number said they were more likely to shop local.
"It is encouraging to see growth in 2021 but we still have a way to go to returning to pre-pandemic levels given that the Irish food service market was severely impacted last year," said Maureen Gahan, food service specialist with Bord Bia.
“Certain segments of the market, such as limited-service restaurants and coffee shops, have been less impacted and will recover more quickly in 2022,” she said. “However, others such as restaurants, hotels, pubs and workplace catering will continue to be impacted not only by Covid-19 public health restrictions but also by other broader sector challenges.”
Separately, farm research agency Teagasc has warned that rising energy prices have triggered a spike in fertiliser prices which will eat into farmers' margins in the coming year.
In its latest outlook it noted that incomes had increased on many farms in 2021 owing to higher output prices and increased output volumes in some sectors. “Nevertheless, the escalation in input prices began to put increasing pressure on margins as the year progressed,” it said.