6 consumer habits of the new normal

27 July 2021, 08:27 AM
  • Shoppers’ shifting priorities are changing yet again as lockdown restrictions come to an end. Here’s what to expect
6 consumer habits of the new normal

The pathway to a post-Covid world has had many chapters so far, from the initial lockdown to the mini-revival over summer 2020 with Eat Out to Help Out, and from the Christmas shopping boom to the strict winter lockdown. Finally, we have arrived at what might be an end to lockdown, with all rules lifting in England and restrictions easing elsewhere in the UK.

Although it’s still impossible to say what might come next, consumer habits have emerged in this ‘new normal’ that we are living in. Speciality Food looks at six of the latest changes in shopper behaviors…

1. A continued focus on wellbeing

The health trend has been significantly accelerated by Covid-19, and consumer demands are reflecting this. But global research by Kantar found an interesting shift in the US market that’s worth noting: although health is important to consumers, they are prioritising wellness and holistic health ideas over “managed health needs such as low carb or low fat”.

For instance, when it comes to beverage occasions, 30% are looking for drinks that offer a healthier choice and 31% want beverages that offer nutritional benefits, but just 20% are looking for low carb options, which is down three percentage points.

2. Scratch cooking opportunities remain

With life getting more hectic, the scratch cooking trend will inevitably falter somewhat, but as long as consumers are working from home there will remain opportunities for more indulgent home cooked meals. Comparing March 2020 and 2021 with March 2019, Kantar found that globally consumers have taken an extra lunch and snacking occasion a week at home as a result of lockdowns.

Breakfast also offers opportunities as long as flexible working remains. Kantar noted that the average time that breakfast is eaten has shifted to later in the morning, which has changed what people are eating. In Spain, for example, nearly a quarter of all breakfasts in the first quarter of 2021 were savoury, up from 22.2% in the same period of 2019.

3. Convenience is back

Convenience shopping all but disappeared during the lockdown, but as restrictions emerge and our calendars fill up, it’s clear that convenience food is back in demand for some shoppers. Sales of ready meals, cooked chickens and sandwich fillings were on the rise in May, while frozen pizzas were in demand in June, and food to go is poised to stage a comeback.

4. Bricks and mortar revival

With more and more shoppers having received their vaccination, consumer confidence is increasing. One survey by Deloitte found that nearly three in four consumers in the US were comfortable going into a physical store in May 2021, while confidence in the UK was slightly lower: 55% of shoppers said they felt safe on their latest shopping trip in July. IGD’s Shopper Confidence Index found that here in the UK, sentiment remained “relatively strong” at -3, just two points below the five-year high that was recorded in April.

According to Deloitte, the role of physical stores is evolving, and retailers will have to fight to capture the attention of consumers in a post-Covid world. They can do this by emphasising the experience of shopping in store, such as with tastings and other immersive activities; building an omnichannel system, including through integrated click and collect areas; and using data to better understand their customers.

5. Online shopping is sticking

As much as physical shopping is making a comeback, e-commerce is still important to consumers even in a post-pandemic landscape. Although Kantar recorded that the number of people buying groceries online fell in July, the channel still accounts for 13.3% of the total market, and Deloitte found that 83% of customers now expect flexible shipping and fulfillment options, like click and collect.

PwC’s latest Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey found that certain changes which occurred over the pandemic are sticking. In the last 12 months, 34% of shoppers bought products online weekly or daily via a computer in June (compared to 30% in March); 38% bought products via a tablet (vs 33%); 44% bought via mobile phone (vs 39%) and 42% bought via smart home voice assistants (vs 37%). Meanwhile, the Centre for Retail Research and vouchercodes.co.uk expects £120.5bn to be spent online in 2021, which is £10bn more than 2020.

6. Spending locally to rise

Supporting local businesses remains a priority for many consumers, and a report by Integral Ad Science, IAS Pandemic Effects: What’s Next in Shifting Consumer Priorities, revealed that 60% of respondents said they will support small and local businesses that have struggled during the pandemic. Much of that spending could be with local foodservice establishments, with 43% saying they will increase spending on dining out over the next year.

However retailers’ gains compared to pre-pandemic levels remain strong. While independent stores’ market share has fallen since the beginning of the pandemic when business boomed, Kantar found that they have still experienced double-digit sales growth compared with 2019.

Although changing habits continue to cause uncertainty for retailers, these latest behavioural may be a sign of things to come in the post-Covid future.

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