Fascinating insight into the changing lifestyles of Northern Ireland
The annual update from the Office for National Statistics of the groceries it includes in its hypothetical basket to set the rate of inflation always makes fascinating reading.
Inevitably the ‘indulgences’ contained in the basket — craft beer and e-cigarettes — provided the main talking point.
For once, Northern Ireland has its finger on the pulse of consumer trends. Now that plain packaging has spread to at least the Republic — while it is still being resisted in the UK — e-cigarette shops are the acceptable face of tobacco entrepreneurship.
For example, there are eight Ziggicig shops around Northern Ireland — around three in Belfast, as well as Londonderry, Lisburn, Craigavon, Newtownabbey and Newcastle.
Rival e-cigs retailer Kix has around 15 stores.
Never has a retail trend sprung up so quickly to become so ubiquitous as the e-cigarette shop — and it’s interesting to note that e-ciggies are deemed “experiential” enough to merit their own retail space, instead of being lumped in with lottery tickets, newspapers and penny chews like their tobacco predecessors.
But the basket also reflects the more virtuous side of our consumer habits, with the sweet potato arriving for the first time (though there was some surprise from colleagues that the starchy vegetable had not yet previously arrived at ONS HQ).
There was also surprise that quinoa, a grain beloved of the health-conscious, had also not yet arrived.
Are business desk tastes ahead of those in the ONS? Perhaps — though the arrival of craft beer definitely chimes with some tastes.
But the list also has its departures. Yoghurt drinks have gone sour, along with frozen pizza — with the latter overtaken by its chilled sister.
And what goes round comes around — with liver back on the list as offal returns to high-end restaurant menus after a 16-year absence. Also added were the oven-ready joint of gammon/pork, melon, protein powder, non-white emulsion paint and mobile phone accessories, among others.