How grocery shopping has changed during lockdown – the ‘new normal’ explained 

COVID-19 forced the whole world to change its habits, especially when it comes to grocery shopping, but will these new behaviours become the ‘new normal’?

supermarket

With most countries beginning to lift their lockdown measures, businesses are unsure whether the new habits developed by consumers during the coronavirus crisis will remain, or if customers will revert to their old behaviours. 

Research conducted by consumer insight specialists, Suzy and New Hope Network, found that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. New behaviours consumers have developed during lockdown might, therefore, become the ‘new normal’. The research took place between June 11 and 14 and involved 1,000 participants in the US.

Last week, Suzy hosted an online event in which it analysed different aspects of this new way of grocery shopping.

Suzy president Avi Savar and Eric Pierce, New Hope Network’s VP of business inights, were on hand to share their thoughts on how grocery shopping will evolve in the coming months.

New food habits for the long term

Online grocery shopping was in vogue even before the coronavirus struck, but the pandemic made it indispensable for many people. Research conducted by New Hope showed that online shopping has triple during the lockdown.

In early May 2020, Suzy and New Hope asked consumers if they felt safe going to grocery shops and only half of them said yes. 59% of people who currently shop online said they would keep doing it even when the lockdown measures will are completely lifted. In addition, 28% of them think they will do more so than they used to do in quarantine. 

Pierce says: “We all know that COVID-19 has been a massive market disruptor, rapidly turning off some parts of our economy and slowing cultural trends while accelerating growth of other parts of our economy and super-charging cultural trends in other places. Think about work-from-home culture – feels like something that was beneath the surface for a very long time. The same is true for online shopping.”

The study also found that, during lockdown, local stores gained new customers as well: 28% of consumers said that as a result of the pandemic, they are more likely to shop local rather than in national chains stores. 

Pierce continues: “It may be that these stores did a better job at meeting consumers’ functional and emotional needs during this time, maybe the community-focused nature of these stores and their more engaged and supportive staff may have connected emotionally with consumers in a time in which they really needed that.” 

The food consumers are trying is also different. 70% of them said they had tried a new brand or product in the past two weeks. In some cases, that was because many products have been out of stock for a long time; in other cases, consumers felt like trying something new, explains Savar. 

He adds: “The variety of products has become more and more important in this new normal. Maybe it is about boredom, which has been kind of a huge theme during the pandemic, and of course cooking.”

The research showed that 49% of consumers are planning to continue shopping for brands they would not normally have purchased.

Savar says: “This new normal is allowing brands to be discovered. For some, that’s a treat, for many, that’s an opportunity.

“The question is: are brands in a position to think about investing in innovative new products? Because consumers seem ready for it.”

The research has shown that cooking is also here to stay: 55% of consumers started cooking at home, and 72% plan to keep doing it at the same levels as they did during the lockdown.  

A new relationship with food

“Reality is that our relationship with food has changed since the onset of COVID,” says Savar. “So many variables have changed, from how much we exercise to the money we have for spending for the amount of time we are now at home.”

In the US, 20 million people are unemployed, and more than 40 million people in Europe have enrolled in furlough schemes as a consequence of the pandemic. This has a direct impact on the type of products people buy. 

The research found that customers still focus on affordable brands, and price is still the most import thing, as it was in almost all surveys conducted in the past by these two companies.  

However, three-quarters of the consumers interviewed by Suzy and New Hope said they re-evaluated their priorities in life. Consumers value more than just low prices. Many of the interviewees seemed to be prioritising health a lot more than they used to. 75% said that personal health issues are more important to them today than in 2019. 

“While consumers face financial strain and uncertainty during COVID, they are always looking for ways to cut costs, but they are also investing in their health,” says Pierce. “There is this idea of consumers voting with their wallet.

“Consumers want brands to help. In a world full of uncertainty, consumers want brands to bring meaning beyond just the product they are buying.”

24% of consumers have started buying a product because of its eco-friendly packagings, and 62% said they are likely to choose brands that publicly stand for a social cause. 

What brands should expect in the near future

35% of Americans are planning to host friends and family this summer as borders start opening up. “Arguably food is going to be at the centre of a lot of those interactions,” says Savar. “People are going to be cooking their own food. This means less ordering, less catering. Cooking seems to be a very common theme, very persistent throughout all this.”

Still, 54% of the interviewees said they are not ready to go back to bars and restaurants, and 63% are not prepared to travel by air.

“For the first future we are going to be living this new normal, and as a brand, we will have to figure out how to evolve and operate under this new paradigm,” Savar adds.  

What is the ‘new normal’? 

The term ‘new normal’ has become part of everyday vernacular, and it refers specifically to the aftermath of a significant global crisis. 

Pierce and Savar expect a prolonged return to the old way of doing things, if at all – small gatherings, less going out and less travel, especially by air. 

“Brands need to be adding value,” says Savar. What does the ‘new normal’ mean to a brand? “It has always been a consistent theme to help consumers navigate through this,” Savar notes. 

According to Pierce and Savar, consumers will be looking for brands they can share, and brands that can provide entertainment. They also suggest that consumers will look for brands that are accessible, innovative and have products to be integrated into their new cooking routine, to take a stand in health, sustainability and social issues.

Consumers will now be looking for brands that demonstrate a clear benefit beyond taste and price. 

  • Avi Savar is the president at consumer intelligence platform Suzy. He is also the founder of Big Fuel, a global digital marketing agency. 
  • Eric Pierce is a strategic business leader, innovator, marketing and market research professional. He is the VP of Business Insights at New Hope Network.

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