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How Britain’s Covid-19 panic buyers triggered a tinned food renaissance | Food

It started with tinned tomatoes, symbolically stripped from supermarket shelves in the panic-buying frenzy of the early days of the pandemic.

But lockdown has led to a wider renaissance of canned food as shoppers have embraced staples from spam and corned beef to beans, pulses and fish, all enjoying a popularity not seen since the rationing of the second world war.

Typically tucked away at the back of the cupboard and dusted off when needed, tinned food – despite the best efforts of self-styled “Queen of thrift” Jack Monroe to make it fashionable – had fallen out of favour.

Pre-Covid-19, sales were sluggish, edging up last year for the first time in five years by just 2.7%. But new figures from data group Kantar reveal that overall sales of canned food soared by 72.6%, to £313.2m, in March compared with the same time last year.

Waitrose executive chef Martyn Lee said: “Tinned tomatoes, beans and baked beans are obvious staples, but there are also excellent-quality tinned fish and meats for quick lunches, tinned artichokes for delicious antipasti, and a whole spectrum of fruits that can provide the base of a dessert as easy or extravagant as you like.”

Now major brands such as Princes, Batchelors and Branston are keen to sustain long-term interest in their canned products, shaking off the wartime association and signing up award-winning chefs and influencers to help provide recipe inspiration – particularly to the younger generation.

Budget chef Miguel Barclay.
Budget chef Miguel Barclay. Photograph: @princes/instagram

While the summer’s seasonal food festivals have been cancelled due to coronavirus, the UK’s first festival devoted solely to canned food kicks off on Monday on Instagram. The four-day event is free but virtual visitors are urged to help families struggling to afford to eat and relying on food banks by making a donation to its charity partner, the food redistribution charity FareShare.

Hosting the so-called Love Canned Food festival is Michelin-starred TV chef Phil Vickery, who, in a live cook-along session, will be rustling up a five-bean (canned, of course) dal.

“My parents grew up in the war years and, as a treat, my grandma used to serve up canned salmon with pickled onions – apparently the height of sophistication,” he said. “Today, I like to use tinned vegetables such as spinach, potatoes and chickpeas to make a quick and tasty curry, while a rice pilaf made with canned pork is also a favourite.”

Also beamed in live from his kitchen will be budget chef Miguel Barclay – he claims to be able to create a gourmet meal for £1 – who believes “quick and easy recipes with a twist” are central to the longer-term revival of tinned foods. “I am a big fan of corned beef,” he says, “but for a long time it has been relegated to the bottom supermarket shelf. It’s becoming a lot cooler now, and one of my favourite recipes is a shakshuka-style Mexican corned-beef hash, which is finished off with little fried eggs and fresh herbs. It taps into the whole ‘yolk porn’ trend on social media.”

On the eve of the return of schools, another cookalong will feature blogger Emily Leary (A Mummy Too) and Adam Shaw (At Dad’s Table) to share tips for lunchboxes and family meals.

Nick Saltmarsh, managing director of Hodmedod, a Suffolk-based pioneer of British-grown pulses and grains – both dried and canned – said: “We’ve long thought that cans are underappreciated as a way of preserving cooked food, not least because the cans themselves are very easy and efficient to recycle.”

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