True cost of a healthy food basket revealed (NI)

Tuesday 09 June, 2015. Low income households in Northern Ireland need to spend at least one third (⅓) of their take home income in order to purchase a basket of healthy food.

The cost of a healthy food basket for a pensioner living on their own is £59 per week, while for a family of four – two adults and two children - is £119 per week.

These are the main findings from Northern Ireland’s survey on The cost of a healthy food basket conducted by safefood in partnership with the Food Standards Agency in NI and the Consumer Council for NI. 

The consumer-led research is the first time a cost has been put on a healthy food basket for two of the biggest household types in Northern Ireland.

It asked consumers to select a realistic food basket from a taste and menu point of view, whilst meeting the social needs of a household, such as hosting visitors or special occasions.

The food baskets were then reviewed by nutritionists from Ulster University to ensure they met nutritional guidelines of the UK Eatwell plate and were then price-checked accordingly.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood explained how being unable to access a healthy diet due to affordability and accessibility (known as food poverty) can have both short and long-term effects on adults and children.

The effects of compromising on food spending can impact on people’s lives in a number of ways, from difficulties in concentration and poor energy levels in children, to wellbeing issues in everyday life for adults.

“On a longer-term basis, the health consequences for those households living in food poverty are higher rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. In trying to make a limited household budget go further by compromising on healthy foods, some households are ending up nutritionally poor.” 

Sharon Gilmore, Head of Standards and Dietary Health at the Food Standards Agency in NI said: “Those people experiencing food poverty and having difficulty eating an adequate diet will continue to be the focus of our work. For the first time, we have sound evidence on the real cost of an essential food basket and how food issues relate to poverty and economic hardship. We need to take this evidence and develop an action plan to tackle food poverty in Northern Ireland.”

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Skills at the Consumer Council said: “This groundbreaking research launched today establishes the true cost of a basic but healthy food basket and will inform the debate and actions needed to tackle food poverty. Our latest research, due to be released next month, shows a significant proportion of Northern Ireland consumers (43%) say their financial situation has worsened over the last two years due to higher food costs[1]. Food prices have actually fluctuated during this period but in our direct engagement with consumers we have heard repeatedly how people are struggling to achieve a healthy, balanced diet”.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact

ASG. Russell Lever, Tel: 028 9080 2000 / 077 8828 8901

Editor’s notes

The household types identified for the research were:

  • A Pensioner, living alone on State Pension
  • A two-parent, two-child household with the following income scenarios
  • One parent working full-time and earning the national minimum wage
  • The family in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance



Pensioner living alone

2 parent & 2 children (3&10y)

2 parent & 2 children (3&10y)


State Pension

Job Seekers Allowance

Minimum Wage (£6.50/h)

Total food spend (£)




Take home Income (£)




% Household Budget




*The average spend on a more general weekly food basket in Northern Ireland was around £70-£75 for a low income family or £30-£35 for a single pensioner (ONS, Family Spending 2013).   

[1] Consumer Outlook Index, Consumer Council, due for publication July 2015.