The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on American’s grocery shopping and cooking habits, according to a March 23 survey of more than 3,000 consumers by meal planning service eMeals, based in Birmingham, Alabama. Shoppers were unable to find 40 percent of the grocery items on their shopping list as the gravity of the Covid-19 outbreak sent them flocking to grocery stores to stock up on food from March 18-23.
Respondents also reported a 55 percent increase in weekly shopping spend, cooking dinner at home six nights a week and surging online grocery use that has caused fulfillment delays because of the high demand.
“Shopping and cooking habits have clearly been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Short supplies at grocery stores, restaurant closings and the need to reduce the number of shopping trips to limit exposure are changing behavior, including prompting more consumers to use online grocery services for curbside pickup or home delivery,” said eMeals CEO Forrest Collier. “With 97 percent of respondents to our survey saying that they plan to continue using online grocery in the future despite order delays or cancellations, it’s likely that one of the lasting effects of this pandemic will be to accelerate the widespread adoption of online grocery.”
Grocery shopping trends
- Survey respondents were unable to find 40 percent of their shopping list items from March 18-23, even after visiting an average of two grocery stores.
- 75 percent had difficulty finding chicken and other meats. Other difficult-to-find food items included bread (31 percent), eggs (29 percent) and milk (25 percent).
- Top beverages stockpiled were milk (48 percent), coffee (44 percent), bottled water (34 percent) and soda (23 percent). In terms of alcohol, 23 percent of consumers stocked up on wine, 18 percent on beer and 18 percent on spirits.
At $253, average grocery spending for the week of March 18-23 was up 55 percent over respondents’ typical weekly purchases. Significantly, 13 percent spent $400 or more, while only 1 percent said their grocery bill is that high in a normal week.
Online grocery use
- 34 percent of respondents elected to send their weekly eMeals shopping list to online grocery pickup or delivery services rather than going to the grocery store. More than half opted for Walmart pickup or delivery with Kroger and Instacart ranking second and third, respectively, using shopping lists automatically generated by eMeals based on the subscriber’s weekly recipe selections that can be used for self-shopping or sent to online grocery services with a few clicks.
- 28 percent trying to use online grocery encountered delays or cancellations, stemming from an industrywide explosion in online grocery use as consumers attempt to limit shopping trips during the coronavirus crisis.
- 51 percent of respondents who placed online orders had to wait two or more days for delivery rather than typical same-day or next-day fulfillment, reflecting insufficient staffing to meet the sudden surge in demand.
- 97 percent of those who placed online orders planned to continue using online grocery in the future despite experiencing delayed delivery times and limited availability of products.
Dinner habit changes
- Respondents reported cooking an average of six dinners at home over the previous seven days, marking a sharp contrast to the 3.8 weekly home-cooked dinners reported in a 2018 eMeals survey.
- 57 percent are trying to make simple meals with more basic ingredients while making use of items already in their pantries and freezers, while only 6 percent reported that they are trying to eat healthier as the coronavirus threat rises.
- 51 percent picked up takeout meals from local restaurants and 15 percent had restaurant meals delivered by a service like DoorDash or Grubhub on nights when they did not cook themselves, reflecting continuing dependence on restaurant-prepared food even when many consumers have more time to cook as they are confined to their homes.
eMeals is a provider of curated meal plans connecting consumers and food brands to the online grocery pickup and delivery services of Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, Shipt and Instacart. Subscribers have access to 15 food style meal plans, each with new weekly dinner ideas that can be mixed and matched from plan to plan. Based on the selected meal choices, the eMeals app automatically generates a grocery list that can be shopped in-store or, with one click, sent for pickup or delivery by one of the integrated grocery retailers.