Fast food booming – a cause for concern?

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Have you ordered in food lately and been overwhelmed by the choice? This is because the UK’s takeaway sector has experienced rapid growth over recent years, driven largely by food delivery, where online apps are now central to the takeaway restaurant business model. Research suggests that sixty percent of UK adults are now active delivery users.  A 2017 report looking at the ‘Takeaway Economy’ found that the UK spends around £10 billion on takeaways annually.

Scotland is by-no-means topping the takeaway food statistics

Scotland had over 3,500 takeaway businesses in 2018, up 28% since 2010. This means there are now 65 takeaways for every 100,000 people. In 2010, the average number of fast food outlets per 100,000 people was 52. However, relative to the other nations and regions of the UK, Scotland’s takeaway growth and per capita density ranks around the middle, as shown in the chart below.

SPICe_2019_Blog fast food_Regions

Households in Scotland were mid-ranking with their spend on takeaway meals eaten at home, spending an average of £244 annually (£4.70 weekly). Northern Ireland spent the most on takeaway meals, spending an average of £8.60 a week. The ONS suggest that this higher spending may be linked to the average Northern Ireland household size being larger than the UK average.

So, at a national and UK regional level, despite Scotland’s sometimes negative association with takeaway food, Scotland is by-no-means topping the takeaway food statistics. However, examining local level statistics portrays a picture of variation across Scotland.

Takeaway trends by Scottish Parliament constituency

Let’s look at how Scottish Parliament constituencies fair.

  • In nearly every constituency (70 out of 73) the number of takeaways has increased between 2010 and 2018. The three that had declines were Aberdeen Central, Coatbridge and Chryston, and Perthshire South and Kinross-shire.
  • The constituencies with the largest increases, in absolute terms, since 2010 were Glasgow Kelvin (+45), Edinburgh Central (+35), and Airdrie and Shotts (+30).

In terms of takeaways per 100,000 people, the below chart shows a map of densities by constituency. The national average in Scotland is 65 takeaways for every 100,000 people. Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvin significantly surpass this at 183 and 165 takeaways, respectively, per 100,000 of population. Edinburgh Pentlands had the lowest ratio with 26 takeaway per 100,000 people. Full details for all Scottish Parliament constituencies can be accessed from this spreadsheet. 

SPICe_2019_Blog_Fast food map

Local authority analysis – Glasgow has the highest takeaway density in Scotland

Moving our analysis from constituencies boundaries to broader local authority boundaries puts Glasgow City at the top, with 90 takeaways per 100,000 people. This is followed by North Lanarkshire with 79 takeaways per 100,000 population. As would be expected, given rurality factors, Scotland’s islands make up the lower tier of the local authority densities.  Midlothian, with 44 takeaways per 100,000 people also joins the islands in the bottom rank.

SPICe_2019_Blog fast food_LA

UK city comparison – Glasgow is only surpassed by Manchester

Scotland’s two largest cities have relatively high takeaways per 100,000 population ratios. Is this the norm for large cities or unique to Scotland? The below chart looks at how Glasgow and Edinburgh compare to some other cities in the UK. Edinburgh is roughly within the average range for a UK city. However, Glasgow is only surpassed by Manchester in terms of density of takeaways per 100,000 population.

SPICe_2019_Blog fast food_Cities

Relationship between takeaway density and deprivation

While the focus of this blog is on business statistics, it is important to highlight and signpost to wider context. A recent study in England, using Food Standards Agency data, showed a strong correlation between deprivation and the availability of fast food. The study found that England’s poorest areas were fast food hotspots, with five times more outlets found in these communities than in the most affluent. There is no replica of this study for Scotland as yet. Food Standards Scotland has published research but nothing with a specific focus on deprivation.

While not comparable with the English study, the chart below shows the correlation between takeaway intensity relative to population share in local authorities with levels of deprivation, using the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). This chart suggests that local authorities with relatively high proportions of data zones in deprivation are likely to have an over-representative share of takeaways relative to their national population share.

SPICe_2019_Blog fast food_Scatterplot

Areas like Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and Dundee have both an over-representative share of takeaways relative to population share and relatively high levels of deprivation. Whereas areas such as Scotland’s islands, Midlothian, and Aberdeenshire have both an under-representative share of takeaways relative to population share and relatively low levels of deprivation.

A cause for concern?

Should policymakers be concerned by these rising trends in takeaway food outlets? While not all fast food is unhealthy, it is typically higher in calories, salt and saturated fat, all of which can cause health problems when consumed frequently and in large quantities. Furthermore, studies have shown that customers significantly underestimate the calorific content of takeaway meals. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that a recent market report found that the rapid growth in demand for alternative types of takeaway has been stimulated by rising health consciousness. Overall though, given Scotland’s existing obesity issues, the densities and growth trends in takeaway availability, highlighted in this analysis, may be a cause for concern for policymakers.

The analysis in this blog is based on the ONS data series ‘UK Business Counts – local units by industry and employment size band’ accessed via NOMIS. SIC code 56103: Take away food shops and mobile food stands was used for the analysis.

Feature image by avlxyz is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Alison O’Connor, Senior Analyst Financial Scrutiny Unit, and Andrew Aiton, Data Visualisation Manager