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The coronavirus pandemic has transformed consumers’ daily lives and routines, as well as their behaviour when it comes to food shopping. All this change has resulted in new – and sometimes unexpected – trends emerging in people’s eating habits.
The good news for independent retailers is that along with these changing habits comes a faltering loyalty in supermarkets, with many consumers happy to switch from their regular shop after exploring local options amid the lockdown. A study by the Brand Nursery also found that a majority of shoppers would branch out to new brands as long as they’re readily available, meaning less familiar brands have a chance to shine as they take advantage of these new shopping trends to look out for.
Vegan and “flexitarian” food
Vegan eating has long been gaining popularity in the UK, but research from Mintel has shown that since the start of the pandemic, more Brits than ever are turning to vegan diets. Another study by The Vegan Society found that one in five Brits have cut down on meat consumption throughout the pandemic.
Those who said they were reducing their meat and dairy consumption sampled almond milk (42%), meat alternatives such as vegan sausages and burgers (38%), soya milk (36%) and pulses such as lentils and chickpeas (34%). Half of those who tried vegan meat alternatives said they will keep purchasing them after the lockdown, and over half of those who tried soya milk said they will make it a regular purchase.
“After the unprecedented success of Veganuary and the swathes of new vegan products hitting the shelves in recent months, it’s no surprise that many consumers have made the switch to plant-based alternatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that be for convenience, cost, or concern for their own wellbeing, the environment and the rights of animals,” said Matt Turner, spokesperson for The Vegan Society.
Healthy food and locally grown fruit and veg
Another area seeing a surge of interest is fruit and veg. Mintel found that overall, 23% of British consumers were eating more fruit and vegetables during the pandemic, with almost one in five saying that Covid had led them to adding more nutrients that support the immune system to their diet.
Elsewhere, sales of British-grown beans and pulses have soared. The East Anglian Daily Times reported that Josiah Meldrum, co-founder of Beccles-based Hodmedod, which sells pulses and beans to independent retailers and distributors, as well as the hospitality sector and the public, said lockdown had created a huge demand for its products from customers looking to experiment in the kitchen. The company’s direct sales to the public rose by 2,000% overnight, and Josiah said demand is still strong.
Conversely, many shoppers are heading back to simpler times with their meals by channeling the comfort and familiarity of nostalgic foods. A report from Co-op found that shoppers are craving simple flavours and traditional products with sales of classic quick-fix, packet desserts in particular soaring up to 738%.
Other packet mixes, such as Smash, proved popular, and sales of tinned foods, including tinned pineapple slices (up 343%) and canned ham (up 179%) were also on the rise. According to the report, 76% of consumers cooked a traditional-style dish during lockdown, with sausage and mash being the most popular meal.
With consumers spending more time at home, it’s no surprise that Covid-19 is causing more Brits to snack. Research by FMCG Gurus found that in May, 50% of consumers said they had snacked more compared to the previous month.
But what are they reaching for? In May, 60% of shoppers said they had bought more food like ice cream and confectionery, FMCG Gurus found. Meanwhile, retail intelligence firm Stackline has said gourmet popcorn is one of the fastest growing trends in the snacking category. The BBC reported that London-based business Popcorn Shed’s sales to consumers were 12 times higher in March and April 2020 than the same period last year.
Research by Nielsen has also verified something that anyone searching for flour in March and April will already know – sales of baking products are on the rise, having jumped by almost two-thirds over the period compared with 2019. During the lockdown, the Grocer reported that UK millers doubled their output of flour to four million 1.5kg bags a week, and still that did not meet demand as homebound Brits began their baking frenzy. Other baking ingredients (72.6%), baking fruits (72.3%) and sugar (49.7%) also experienced a lockdown bump.
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