What food companies can learn from consumer preferences shaped by the pandemic

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has had a dramatic impact on consumer behaviour with regards to their food and beverage preferences. Now more than ever, consumers’ choices are driven by factors such as health, social distancing, personal safety and the accessibility to produce.

Enforced lockdown has seen many people return to their own kitchens and engage with cooking and baking from scratch. In fact, data from Google Trends has identified spikes in searches of “banana bread”, “sourdough” and “cinnamon scrolls” since the start of the pandemic, and supermarket shelves have regularly run dry of flour and yeast supplies. Furthermore, the closure of many restaurants, cafes and bars has not only seen an increase in delivery services, but a call from consumers wanting to replicate the restaurant experience within their own homes.

So just what can food manufacturers stand to learn from the changes in consumer preferences during this time, and will these changes become the new normal?

Healthy conscience

According to a survey conducted with 23,000 consumers in April 2020, 73 percent of shoppers said they would place a greater emphasis on eating and drinking more healthily in the future as a direct result of COVID-19. The research showed that consumers felt more vulnerable and concerned about their immediate health and immune systems, forcing them to re-evaluate their eating and lifestyle behaviours.

While the trend of healthy eating has been gaining traction over the last couple of years, the current global health crisis has seen this trend increase dramatically during this time, with categories seen as “healthier” purportedly benefiting. Organic food, for example, has seen a “hefty sales increase” globally, according to research from Ecovia Intelligence, with some organic food stores reporting an increase of as much as 40 percent through online shopping.

Strong demand for long-life food

Counter to the demand for fresh and organic food, when coronavirus first took hold, supermarket retailers saw a wave of panic buying across stores, with long-life food products, such as pasta, rice and tinned goods the first to race off shelves. But as restrictions begin to ease across many of Australia’s states, it looks like this reliance on shelf-safe foods might be here to stay.

A study by Mintel showed that 37 percent of people will buy more long-life food products as a direct result of the virus, spurred on by a collective of fear for what the future holds. This has the potential to see many food manufacturers expand into the long-life food sector, increasing competition in an area of the food industry which has remained relatively undisturbed for quite some time.

Emphasis on plant-based eating

The rise in meat alternatives and plant-based eating has been increasing for several years, however the Food and Agriculture Organisation has indicated there is a possibility of a disproportionately larger decline in animal protein consumption as a result of fears that animals might be hosts of the virus, though there is no scientific basis in this fear. It reports that there will also likely be a decline in demand for other higher-value products, such as raw fish and seafood, supplied to restaurants and hotels, including small and medium enterprises.

According to a study from Mintel, a large proportion of the younger generation have become more attracted to the idea of a vegan diet since the pandemic outbreak. The British research suggests that 25 percent of Millennials say the COVID-19 pandemic has made a vegan diet more appealing, while that number has increased from 12 percent to 22 percent for all Brits since the pandemic.

At home food experiences

Though restaurants around the country have closed or have limited capacity, this does not mean that Australia’s discerning foodies have lost their interest in fine-dining. As a result of these closures, many restaurants, cafes and food operators have pivoted to offer their own delivery services or cook at home meals.

This goes far beyond the standard take-away pizza, with chefs and restaurateurs aiming to recreate the fine-dining experience at home with the likes of “pop-up restaurants” at various points around cities, as well as collaborations between food and beverage companies to offer consumers the full experience. In the long term, this will likely completely change the landscape of the food delivery business in this country.

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