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When the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020 and consumers around the country began working from home, it likely would have been a shock to learn that nearly a year later the situation would be so similar.
Almost nine in 10 employees say their business has adapted to hybrid working, according to a new report from Microsoft Surface and YouGov. And despite nearly one in three saying they work longer hours remotely, 56% reported an increase in their levels of happiness working from home.
Even as lockdown restrictions lift, it’s likely that remote working will stick around. One survey by Slack found that 72% of people would prefer a hybrid approach to working post-Covid, mixing remote and office work. Here, we offer four ways that retailers can cater to the new habits of the working from home crowd.
‘Balanced offering’ is the mantra as two distinct groups emerge from the working from home category: convenience-seekers and home chefs.
“With many people working from home, the convenience factor is still hugely important. They still want something quick and easy, but also delicious to make at lunch,” Kabuto Noodles founder Crispin Busk told Speciality Food. Indeed, for busy parents or those working longer hours, simple solutions are key.
But crucially, even convenience-minded cooks will now have access to kitchen appliances beyond the office microwave, meaning decadent soups, snacking platters or speedy hot meals are all on the menu. Stock storecupboard staples that cater to both types of shopper. For instance, noodle kits that lend themselves to a simple lunch can also be embellished and dressed up with more ingredients to suit scratch cookers.
Shoppers will also be on the hunt for store cupboard staples that bring more to the table than their usual go-tos. For instance, Whole Foods Market’s Trends Council identified alternative oils as one trend that will be heating up in 2021. Premium oils made from walnuts or pumpkin seeds offer a simple way to add pizazz to salads or cooked meals.
For dinner, while pubs and restaurants remain shut, retailers have the opportunity to market restaurant-quality meals at home, throwing the spotlight on powerhouse sauces and spices that can transform dishes from ordinary to extraordinary with ease. As well as capitalising on comforting classics, independents can also target international tastebuds: “With more home cooking and less international travel, shoppers are being more experimental with worldwide cuisines at home,” Crispin said.
No longer confined to a speedy brew before the morning commute, hot drinks are now an experience that offers ample opportunities for upselling. As Speciality Food recently reported, the average consumer has spent £50 on recreating their favourite to-go hot drink order at home during the pandemic.
Shoppers are keen to stock up on new appliances and accessories, too. Waitrose noted that sales of bean-to-cup coffee machines were up 64% at John Lewis. Meanwhile, premium tea company Jing saw sales of its tea-iere jump 73% between March and November, and its porcelain tea infuser sales grow by 108%.
With Fairtrade sales booming during 2020, ensuring you have a ready supply of ethical options will remain important. The ongoing health trend also lends itself to speciality caffeine-free options. “As a category, fruit and herbal teas has seen huge growth over recent years, alongside decaf which grew 14.2% in 2020,” said Bethan Thomas, founder of HotTea Mama Teas. “This is a key area that workers will be looking to for more interesting and healthy products to support both their physical and mental health while working at home.”
Health is also key in the snacking arena. Unsurprisingly, since Covid-19 hit the UK, snacking has exploded. Data from Kantar showed that during the first lockdown, snacking occasions grew the longer we stayed at home: in the first week of lockdown there was a slight increase of between 5-10% – by week five this had risen to 50%.
And while indulgent treats have certainly proved popular, there are ever-growing numbers of health-conscious consumers, too. Identifying products that balance feel-good snacking with strong health credentials will be crucial.
“Given there’s still so much uncertainty about what lies ahead and the length of time we’ll continue to WFH, lots of the previously ‘new’ food and drink occasions have now evolved into rituals,” explained Nat Cooper, trade lead at Mindful Snacker. “We’re used to eating all our meals from home, snacking more frequently and relying on drinking and eating to break up the working day.” Consumers are using comfort food to lift their spirits when they can’t go out, but with a keen eye on healthy alternatives, snacks that answer “both head and heart” will be winners.
“As the pandemic continues, even the most creative consumers are beginning to become bored of mainstream favourites, searching for innovation and newness online and in local independents,” Nat added.
The continued closure of restaurants, pubs and bars means that home-workers are also spending their leisure time in what is essentially their home office. This has led to a growing taste for luxurious drinks to enjoy at home and draw the line between work and leisure time.
“We learned very quickly that without the ability to visit bars and restaurants, people have put more emphasis on enjoying their home food and drink experiences, particularly during their down time,” said Andy Seach, sales manager at Otterbeck Distillery.
“Launching in March last year, we would typically have focused on introducing Cotton Gin through the on-trade, but without the ability to do so we’ve had to make the at-home experience a much more prominent part of our strategy.”
For retailers, ensuring your stock of high-end spirits and mixers is up to scratch is key – check out our report from 2020 about the spirits and mixers that are making waves in the sector, despite Covid-19.
By serving up the food and drink that makes life for home workers simpler and more exciting, independents can find success with a new target market.