by Mary Margaret Stewart / staff writer
While FMI has tracked trends in food and grocery shopping for decades, its 2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report shows the early impact of COVID-19 pandemic, rapidly shifting eating and cooking priorities due to the culture-wide constraints.
Following the release of the report, FMI held a webinar to further examine the results. Participants included: Sue Wilkinson, senior director of information service and research at FMI; David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation; David Emerson Feit, VP of strategic insights at The Hartman Group; and Steve Markenson, director of research at FMI.
“Shortly after completing our 2020 data collection, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S.” Wilkinson said. “FMI has and continues to track the impact of the pandemic by conducting ongoing research among grocery shoppers.”
For years, consumers’ food dollars have flowed to restaurants and away from grocery stores. Foodservice spending was on pace to overtake food retail spending in the U.S. for the first time, according to the report, when the coronavirus outbreak hit, shuttering dining options nationwide.
The shift in access to food was exponential. So much so that retail food saw eight years of spending growth in one month, the report found.
“Almost every article and every report or blog I read these days that’s seeking to assess and capture the essence of COVID-19 living experiences, eventually comes ’round to use the word ‘unprecedented’ to describe these times,” Sikes said. “And it’s for good reason – never before in the recent past of our nation have we been forced to confront the magnitude of abrupt changes that COVID-19 circumstances hoisted upon us all.”
He went on to say that every aspect of our lives has been challenged and changed by coronavirus in some way, deeming it the “queen mother of disruptions.”
Feit continued the webinar discussion by touching on how all of the disruption has changed shopping patterns for all shoppers.
“We’ll begin here with the broad topics of the changes of where people shop for food and how they shop and who does the shopping during this age,” Feit said. “When we started asking these questions in March, we imagined that within parts of the country already affected by COVID-19, some of these changes might be straightforward and obvious, but they’d be less obvious in other areas, so our work here could offer a peek ahead.”
Feit pointed to the rapid spread of the virus, which caused fairly ubiquitous impacts on grocery shopping within a matter of days. He said their research has been able to illuminate the variety of circumstances that different households are facing across the country.
And he contended the biggest change has been where people shop, with 78 percent of customers making changes to their buying habits.
In good news, shoppers reported that they were pleased with their go-to store’s response to the virus. Many deemed hygiene as a top priority for in-store response to COVID-19 – 57 percent said that keeping the store clean and sanitized is priority; and 52 percent said providing sanitation wipes for carts is priority.
These numbers go hand-in-hand with in-store grocery shopping concerns. Fifty-four percent worry about getting ill from other shoppers, and 44 percent worry about getting ill from surfaces at checkout.
Nevertheless, relatively few people have stayed out of the stores altogether, with just 10 percent reporting that they no longer shop in-person for groceries.
And while many households are still going to stores, online sales have shot up, too. According to the report, online spending has doubled its share of food retail.
“FMI projected in a report we released in January of this year that online food and beverage sales would grow to be $143 billion by 2025,” Markenson said. “However, the stay-at-home orders and requirements for social distancing that have come with COVID-19 pandemic have sent the numbers of online shoppers soaring.”
With new methods of shopping came trying new things. While Millennials were familiar with online grocery options prior to the pandemic, several Americans reported a lot of trial and experimentation in attempt to find different ways to meet their food needs.
On Wednesday, June 24, FMI will be hosting another webinar, “How COVID-19 is Reshaping Online Shopping.” To register, go to: https://www.fmi.org/forms/meeting/Microsite/2020trends3.
Outside of shopping trends, in-store and online, the FMI decided to study three focus areas: concerns about feeding families; LatinX and black grocery shoppers; and cooking and eating healthy during a pandemic.
Concerns about feeding families
“When it comes to feeding families, we’re not breaking any new ground here to say that families have been experiencing pretty sudden and concrete stresses,” Feit said. “These numbers are from the first week we’ve fielded. They’ve only gotten worse, although maybe not much worse in absolute terms.”
In the last week of March, 39 percent of shoppers reported changes to household members or finances, and 27 percent reported reduced working hours or wages.
“With these deep changes due to the fundamental resources of the household,” Feit added, “we’re not surprised to hear that 20 percent of adults have specific concerns that they might not have enough money to pay for the food that they need…But we do note that it doesn’t really end with money troubles, per se.”
As the numbers indicate, he notes that there’s a more generalized anxiety about having enough food for household(s), with 25 percent of shoppers saying they’re somewhat concerned and 25 percent extremely/very concerned.
LatinX and black grocery shoppers
“Many of you have undoubtedly seen reports of how minority communities have been disproportionately exposed to both the financial and the medical effects of COVID for various reasons,” Feit said to webinar participants. “And we spent some time trying to understand how this might translate into specific food-shopping needs that stores can meet.”
Feit goes onto explain the report’s results, saying that black and LatinX tended to report the same sorts of experiences and needs overall as other working Americans in communities that have been affected by coronavirus.
Twenty-four percent of black shoppers and 24 percent of LatinX shoppers reported trying online shopping for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, 64 percent of black and LatinX shoppers rate their primary store between 8-10 on their response to the virus.
Cooking and eating healthy during a pandemic
“In a world where eating out is suddenly off the table, what are Americans doing, we’re asking, and what’re they thinking?” Feit said.
In many Americans’ attempt to stay well amid a public health crisis, more food retail also came more healthy choices. 36 percent of shoppers report healthier eating habits, compared to before COVID-19.
In March and April 2020, the top changes in eating habits due to COVID-19 were 41 percent cook more of their meals; 27 percent plan more of their meals in advance; and 20 percent try new dishes more often.
And meal prepping and being more cognizant of ingredients can be helpful steps to eating better, with “less impulsive food acquisition” and more “intention to personal health and immunity” these days, said Feit.
To read the full 2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report, visit: spaces.hightail.com/space/5ftwyPHMu8.