September 24, 2020

How has the Global Pandemic Changed The Way We Shop For Food?

Coronavirus Grocery ShoppingThe Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we shop for food. I had my suspicions about this early on in the pandemic when I did an impromptu IGTV rant about Coronavirus grocery shopping that had many of my followers sharing their sadness and frustration that their favorite pastime had become nothing more than a dreaded errand.  Then I ran across this article in the New York Times, By Kim Severson, food correspondent for the New York Times (@Kim Severson on Twitter). She said that for the first time in a long while, “Americans began spending more money at the supermarket than at places where someone else made the food.” In addition, the article goes on to describe the seven ways COVID-19 has changed grocery shopping. Check out my thoughts below, and be sure to read the whole article.

Seven Ways Coronavirus Has Changed Grocery Shopping

“The need to avoid infection has taught people how to get by on fewer trips to the store, and to make good shopping lists.”

I  have been surprised by how much money I am saving on food overall. Generally, I ate out 4 or 5 times a week. With the pandemic, we have definitely been cooking more at home and we even have had leftover nights for dinner. In the past leftovers were simply relegated to work lunches. We make lists for what we need, and I am long on staples and short on “fun” or “frivolous” items that I may throw in for a dinner party or a new food just to try it. We are cooking more from our cookbooks, but also not rushing out to buy ingredients specifically for a recipe and making due with what we have. If a recipe calls for mint and I only have cilantro, that’s what I use.

“A year ago, 81 percent of shoppers surveyed by Gallup said they never turned to the internet for groceries. Online shopping was lolling at around 3 percent of all grocery sales, or about $1.2 billion, according to a survey by Brick Meets Click/Mercatus. But in June, online grocery sales in the United States hit $7.2 billion.”

I am not an online food shopper. I really don’t like the idea of someone else picking out my bananas or choosing the right avocado for me. Early on in the pandemic, I ordered some staples online like toilet paper, coconut milk, and stewed tomatoes, but I hated all the packaging and it just felt wasteful so I went back into the store.

“In May, grocers sold 73 percent more oranges than during the same month in 2019.”

This is strange to me. I love oranges. And clementines? Hello — they might be the world’s most perfect food, but, still, Oranges? I guess people are getting the message that Vitamin C and Vitamin D are healthy, virus-fighting foods. If that’s what it takes to get people to realize the food they put in their body is actually medicine, I am all for it.

“Pandemic shopping has ushered in wider aisles, new methods of sanitation and less-crowded stores. And shoppers want these changes to stay.”

I am all for this development. Offering hand sanitizer wipes when you grab a cart? Yes, please. Giving the person in front of you some space while they read their nutrition labels? You bet. Are numbers at the deli counter actually being used? Yes.

“After decades in which American supermarkets expanded to offer a dizzying selection of products and brands, they are pulling back on variety. There are no more free samples (a health risk) and fewer specialty promotions. Shoppers, intent on getting in and out quickly, are sticking to items they already know. Online shoppers, guided by algorithms and autofill, are less likely to make impulse purchases. Displays at the end of aisles are more likely to hold bulk packages of staples than new products looking to break into the market. Grocers have found that they can still do a brisk business with fewer choices.  Instead of offering both conventional and organic leeks, for example, a store may stock only the organic.”

This development was something I noticed early on. Sampling of new local Minnesota made products was gone in many stores. It has come back to some stores in a smaller degree, but it is not the same grabbing a piece of cantaloupe from someone wearing a hazmat suit and a mask. I also noticed how store end caps that used to be full of new product introductions or brand extensions were now featuring most purchased pandemic items grouped together like hand sanitizer, alcohol, paper towels, and cleaning spray. By the way, when was the last time you saw a Lysol disinfectant wipe?

Overall, less choice when grocery shopping feels bad for a foodie like me, who wants to choose between 6 types of diced organic tomatoes. I also fear that fewer choices may squeeze out smaller, ethically sourced companies and ingredients leaving the shelves to only large food conglomerates that have easier distribution.

6. The Freezer Is Hot

Organized Refrigerator“Frozen food is another surprising breakout. Sales initially jumped by 94 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. That initial rush abated, but even in August, sales remained up almost 18 percent. Costco, whose sales are up 15 percent over August a year ago, attributes some of the growth to strong frozen food sales.”

This is a trend we are seeing locally and lord knows my chest freezer is full enough to feed a family of four through a nuclear winter. I have bought more freezer food in the last six months than in my lifetime. I stock up on frozen broccoli, spinach, ground beef, and turkey. I had gone 10 years without buying ground beef before the pandemic and now my freezer is full of it. I save and reuse every scrap of veggie and bones for broth. I make pesto and freeze it in cubes. I make sauces in the Instant Pot and freeze them flat in Ziploc bags for quick curries and butter chicken. My grandma would be proud of my freezer skills. Now, if only I was feeding a family of six, not two.

7. ‘Local’ Is a Bigger Lure

“The fragility of the supply chain, concerns over health and safety, and an appreciation of community have buoyed the movement toward food that is raised or produced locally. It’s all part of greater awareness about healthy eating, food waste, and climate change, as well as a desire to keep money in the neighborhood.”

Weekly Dish with Steph & StephThis was the highlight of this whole article for me. I have always believed in supporting local, and I love discovering local products. Keeping 70% of one dollar in our local marketplace makes a real difference in the health of our local economy. Farmers market growers and Minnesota product makers have found ways to sell at grocery stores and also direct to consumers, which is a whole new way for them to go to market. The smart grocers are seeing that their customers love local and are inviting brands to their shelves. Whole Foods had virtually eliminated many of the local food SKU’s they previously carried and heir customers were not having any of it so you are starting to see Minnesota Makers again back in their stores.

For more discussion on this topic listen to me and my co-host Stephanie March (@stephmarch on twitter) discussion this changing grocery world on my radio show Weekly Dish.