London - As a prelude to a new series of reports, market analyst Datamonitor look at the key consumer issues of the past year. Consumer Review 2001* paints a picture of British consumers juggling increasingly hectic, stressful lifestyles. While spending on all things healthy and convenient has increased, cases of depression have also risen, suggesting that perhaps modern lifestyles are taking their toll.

Key findings from Datamonitor's research follow, covering 2001 consumer trends on convenience, money, food, drink and personal care.

Convenience remained King throughout 2001

Consumers lapped up all things convenient in 2001, be it prepared meals or banking and shopping online. However with all things new come new concerns, meaning that many consumers try to make their lives simpler by accepting new ways of living, but as a consequence carry the additional stress factors that they bring. 

-Despite a rocky year for life online, 2001 saw ebanking make its mark. 7.52 million British consumers now bank online. While this figure is expected to increase, a personal visit to a bank branch is still the most preferred method for banking.

-Ready meals moved beyond the domain of the singleton to become a major market for all consumers. With manufacturers bombarding the shelves with a plethora of flavours and recipe innovations, sales reached £2.24 billion in the UK. In Europe, the UK is second only to Sweden on spend per head on prepared meals.

-More British consumers decided against queuing at the supermarket and turned instead to buying our groceries online. With British retailers at the forefront of development online, sales approached £399 million in the UK and are forecast to continue increasing.

"Consumers are attempting to make their lives easier by making more of convenience, be it through online services to look after their money or ready meals to cut time spent in the kitchen. However with each new method of convenience come new concerns, be they about Internet security or the dietary effects of eating certain food. Even instantaneous communication from e-mail and mobile phones, designed to aid our daily routines, demands
constant attention and fills a lot of 'non-professional' time which has traditionally been dedicated to planning one's daily life or relaxing. As a result, 2001 has seen life become more stressful for many consumers as we live increasingly urbanised, hectic lifestyles and rely more on convenience to allow us to pack more into the day," comments Gavin Humphries,
Datamonitor consumer markets Director of Analysis. 

Food & drink: the good, the bad and the trendy 

The 'debits and credits' mindset has become the norm as more consumers balance indulgence with abstinence when it comes to food and drink. Despite increasing health awareness and growing sales of organic foods, consumption of alcohol has increased and consumers now fit eating in when they can, rather than planning around meals.

-Fuelled by the widespread concerns about GMOs, a growing interest in healthy eating and recent food scares such as BSE, organic food continued to grow in popularity with sales reaching £529 million in 2000, up from £156 million in 1995. By 2005 British consumers are set to become Europe's biggest spenders on organic food.

The alcohol debates continued in 2001 as consumption increased, in particular among young adults. In the UK, young adults (those aged between 18-34) currently drink approximately 2.68 billion litres of alcohol a year with this figure expected to increase to 3.02 billion litres in 2004.  Booze became a fashion statement as flavoured alcoholic beverages such as Bacardi Breezer and Red Square used dance music and imagery in their branding to bring them 'designer drink' status. The retailer FCUK brought the connection between fashion and alcohol one step further with the launch of FCUK Spirit.

Grab-it-and-go culture dominated our eating patterns. The traditional three meals a day becoming five as priorities shifted away from meal occasions and consumers fitted in eating around increasingly pressured professional and work lives.