We are living through an unprecedented time in which the pandemic has accelerated, altered or accentuated trends in many spheres of food and beverage culture. As we move forward into the summer of 2021 — in the context of promising trends in vaccinations and states opening fully for business — many of these behavioral changes will be in transition as consumers adapt to changing perceptions of safety and risk and explore access to a wider array of food experiences outside the home.
Accelerated and altered: In-store and online grocery shopping
How we shop for groceries underwent huge changes during the pandemic. Online grocery shopping showed significant acceleration while in-person shopping within food retailers became altered as a “ journey of safety” as shoppers, fraught with worries about the virus, planned well in advance, masked up, stocked up and got in and out of grocery stores as quickly as they could.
We examined the meteoric rise of online shopping in our Food Sourcing in America report and found that in summer 2020, more than half (56%) of consumers said they had bought groceries online in the past 30 days. About a quarter (27%) of consumers said they shopped online for groceries more than before COVID-19, and 14% said they had shopped online for groceries for the very first time.
Accelerated, altered and accentuated: The rise and fall of our enthusiasm for cooking
One of the most volatile trends within food culture during the pandemic has been the rise and fall in enthusiasm for cooking at home, hence our observation that the cooking trend was both altered and accelerated by national events (including “stay at home” orders and restaurant closures).
Cooking as an activity of discovery has also been accentuated by the pandemic, driving more consumers to online resources for instruction, ingredients and inspiration as well as encouraging improvisation in recipes and heightened engagement between family members.
And yet, our Eating Occasions 2020 report finds that despite our initial shift to cooking, our enthusiasm did not last throughout 2020 as cooking fatigue quickly set in. Heading into the fall of 2020, we found that heavy levels of food preparation declined, and consumers became more comfortable with sourcing from restaurants.
Accelerated and altered: Snacking out of distraction
Even prior to the pandemic, we were already a nation of snackaholics, and with all the couch time at home during the pandemic, our snacking tendencies soared. The Hartman Group’s Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report found 35% of consumers saying they snacked more often in 2020 compared to the previous year.
The increase in snacking (an eating behavior that is highly vulnerable to lifestyle changes) reflected the chaotic pandemic times and the diversity of changes occurring in consumer lifestyles. While some level of “aimless” snacking had always taken place in recent decades, the tumultuous events of 2020 elevated “distracted” snacking to the status of its own pillar. Our analysis uncovered that that 40% of all snacking reflects some need for distraction.
Accelerated search for functional foods and beverages
In terms of changing behaviors that link to diet and nutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified consumers’ ever-evolving interest in how functional foods and beverages could boost their immunity and overall health and wellness. Our report Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements finds that at least half (55%) of adult consumers claim to use functional food/beverage solutions to treat or prevent a specific condition, including general prevention efforts.
An accentuated focus on social justice, racial equality and community and employee welfare
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on long-existing inequities throughout society and the food system and exposed them as more acute, particularly among people of color. In addition, the pandemic has revealed the extent to which food and farmworkers are both essential and vulnerable — and made them even more so, bringing labor and safety issues to the attention of consumers more than ever before. Increased attention on social justice issues has brought long-standing labor concerns in the food industry — which have been exacerbated by the pandemic — to the fore.
As the pandemic cast a shadow over everyday life, consumers and community organizations banded together in 2020 to lift up their communities. The growth of grassroots aid over the past year exemplifies the rise of community-mindedness among consumers and, consequently, the importance of incorporating aspects of community welfare into how food businesses operate.
As issues of social justice become more and more visible, companies must closely evaluate their values and priorities and ensure that all aspects of their business — from sourcing and production all the way down to corporate communication — are in alignment. It is becoming ever more difficult for companies to remain neutral on such issues, and so companies must aim for consistency and authenticity in communication in order to maintain consumer trust and loyalty.
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- SmartSummit: Fighting racism through the food and hospitality industries
- Will the future food supply chain reflect pandemic-era changes?
As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company’s associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.
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