France is still Europe's largest gourmet food market, according to the Datamonitor report, but the UK is now in second place, ahead of both Italy and Germany. In fact, in terms of per capita consumption of fine food, Britain tops the poll, with expenditure of more than €1,475 per year.
"One of the most important trends in grocery over the past 10 years has been the emergence of the market for organic, natural and fresh produce. This rapidly growing market stands as proof that today's consumers are prepared to spend a premium on food provided that they can see a clear value in it for them," said Andrew Russell, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the Fine Dining At Home report.
According to Russell, manufacturers and retailers need to take a leading role in providing consumers with support, encouragement and education about new cooking styles. In-store magazines with recipes, websites offering hints and tips, well informed staff and in-store demonstrations are all good ways for industry players to target this growing group of experimental consumers.
In terms of the total fine food market size, France is far and away the biggest, worth just under €10 billion in 2003 and forecast to increase by 16 per cent to €11.4 billion in 2008. The fastest growing markets, however, are Italy (+33 per cent), the Netherlands (+32 per cent) and the UK (+31 per cent), with sales likely to reach €7.2 billion, €1.5 billion and €8.8 billion respectively by 2008.
Growth is being driven primarily by changing consumer demographics, the report suggests. Fine food used to be the reserve of a sophisticated, educated and wealthy fraction of the population, whose lifestyle encouraged them to try and replicate the restaurant experience in their cooking at home.
But Datamonitor's research reveals that other consumer groups are now taking an interest in fine dining at home as well, especially now that premium foods, such as such as shiitake mushrooms, corn-fed free range chicken and rosemary flavoured cold pressed extra virgin olive oil are appearing on supermarket shelves.
Datamonitor classifies these newly converted consumers as Wealthy Seniors - who have large disposable incomes, free time and the desire to enjoy life - and Urban Singles, who also have large disposable incomes due to their lack of dependents and who tend to want to make the most of what free time they have by experimenting with new products and recipes.
Taken together, these three groups (including the first, which Datamonitor classifies as Educated Cosmopolitans) make up the market for fine dining at home.
"There are many ways for consumers who want the best out of life to spend their money: holidays, entertainment, eating out, driving fast cars or buying art, for example. However, fine dining at home is an increasingly popular choice. This is due to the influence of restaurants, the 'eating better and living better' connection, and consumers' desire to explore new cuisines," said Russell.
The widespread celebrity chef phenomenon has also done its bit to help develop this market. Characters such as Jamie Oliver have found a degree of stardom by combining a talent for cookery with charisma, and increasingly play a leading role in encouraging consumers to believe that they can improve their lives through better eating, the report suggests.
But restaurants also influence consumers' views on fine dining. In the past, the emphasis on atmosphere and décor, coupled with the fact that haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine were difficult to prepare, meant that consumers were wary of trying to recreate the restaurant experience at home, Russell suggested.
"Nowadays, however, restaurants have adopted a new approach. Emphasis has shifted to the authenticity, quality and freshness of the ingredients. Décor and service are also becoming much more simplistic. Consumers therefore feel this is something they can achieve themselves."
He added that restaurateurs were increasingly facing off with retailers in battling for a share of consumers' money. "Dinner party culture has evolved over the last few years - gatherings have become more frequent and less formal and supermarkets are offering the ideal goods to suit such occasions."
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