In celebration of National Picnic Week, we’re revealing the nation’s favourite picnic foods, with crisps and sandwiches topping the charts across the UK.

Our research found that the humble picnic has evolved over the last 10 decades from traditional cuts of meat and chilled soufflés to crisps and quinoa in the modern day. In fact, nowadays Hummus, falafel – and even sushi – have become typical picnic staples, alongside the traditional sandwiches, sausage rolls and scotch eggs.

A variation of breads features on the list – including bagels, pitta bread and focaccia – but sandwiches have stood the test of time, with more than half of the nation (58 per cent) believing they will always be a picnic staple.

The study also found the rise of meat-free diets has had an influence, with vegetarian sausage rolls, pies and an assortment of salads featuring on modern picnic blankets.

Fact: Did you know that the word picnic is derived from the French verb which means ‘to peck’?

Food historian and TV presenter, Polly Russell, who has partnered with us for the study said: “Though variety has been a defining characteristic of the picnic for more than a century, the influence of different cultures and foreign foods on our tastes is more obvious than ever on the picnic blanket today. Some picnic foods have clearly fallen out of favour though – you’d be unlikely to take tongue or a boiled fruit cake on a picnic today.”

“In the 1930s, car ownership expanded the possibility for day excursions – usually accompanied by a picnic – and cold roast meats were often on the menu during this decade.”

“Through the 40s and the war, picnics remained an inexpensive and informal way for people to relax and escape day to day worries, rations meant home-grown vegetables were added to the basket.

“Fast forward to today, sandwiches and crisps still top the charts and old-fashioned favourites like Scotch eggs feature, but eclectic tastes and a desire for variation mean picnic goers can enjoy the likes of carrot sticks, dips and crudités.”

While 71% of respondent’s pack crisps for their picnics today, food history expert, Polly explained they became an ‘essential’ in the 1970s as new flavours were developed.

The study also found the average adult has three picnics a year, but a third believe the choice of food has changed greatly over time, with 49 per cent agreeing there are more options today.

But despite the modern additions, 41 per cent admitted they ‘prefer’ traditional items such as cold meats and scotch eggs.

Almost half have been known to home-make picnic snacks, including 43 per cent of those making sausage rolls, 35 per cent baking a quiche and more than a third whipping up some scones.

It also emerged 46 per cent believe picnics are a typically British event which will always be popular.

The feeling of summer (60 per cent), eating outdoors (60 per cent) and the social aspect (35 per cent) were among the best things about having picnics.

A third also like having finger food rather than a meal and three in 10 enjoy exploring new places – with a beach, national park and forests revealed as the popular locations to have a picnic.

A further quarter said the ritual feels ‘nostalgic’ and 30 per cent have many childhood memories of family picnics.

More than half said their favourite picnic food as a child was sandwiches, while 48 per cent enjoyed crisps and a third liked cake the most.

The study also found that during recent months in lockdown, a quarter of respondents have had a picnic – with two thirds of them taking place in their own garden.

A further 65 per cent admitted to having had a socially distanced picnic with people outside of their household and a fifth said this has replaced going out for meals.

And 27 per cent believe the event has been more popular than usual recently because it’s one of the few ways people can socialise.

When explaining the role of the picnic and the nation’s feelings towards it, Polly Russell summarises, “Despite the notoriously unreliable British weather, the British love of picnics hasn’t been dampened for over 100 years. From lavish feasts of roast grouse and whole hams in the 1930s, to Tupperware filled with cheese rolls and drinks cartons you can learn a lot about Britain’s changing tastes by looking at the picnic. Whilst there are new additions like kebabs and pasta salad, the Warburtons research shows that family favourites like sandwiches, quiche and sausage rolls have held their place on the picnic blanket.”

Top 10 savoury items to take on a picnic:

  1. Crisps
  2. Sandwiches
  3. Sausages rolls
  4. Cherry tomatoes
  5. Rolls/baps
  6. Pork pies
  7. Scotch eggs
  8. Slices of cheese e.g. cheddar, halloumi
  9. Cocktail sausages
  10. Hard boiled eggs

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