How COVID-19 will change consumer behaviour

21 April 2020, 10:34 AM
  • With people eager for change post-lockdown, how will shifting patterns affect SMEs in the fine food and drink industry?
How COVID-19 will change consumer behaviour

The world is awash with people adapting to a slower pace of life amidst global restrictions on movement. And while most people initially bemoaned the lack of freedom, it seems many are now not only adapting to but appreciating what’s being described as ‘the new norm’.

From adjusting the way they shop and what they shop for to spending more quality time with family, people are enjoying a more relaxed routine – and it seems these new habits could be carried over post-Coronavirus.

According to a recent YouGov poll of 4,343 Brits, 54% of people hope to make changes to their own lives and for the country as a whole when the pandemic comes to an end. What’s more, 42% said they have an increased appreciation for food and other essentials, with 38% cooking from scratch more often.

The survey was commissioned by the RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, together with The Food Foundation food charity. The findings are perhaps unsurprising given the constant media coverage of people shifting their priorities and stripping back their lifestyles to something simpler.

Back to basics
With people dining out less, ordering groceries online, and cooking from scratch more, what does this mean for the artisan producers, farm shops, delis, independent restaurants and indie brands in the food and drink industry post-lockdown?

For spice companies like Green Saffron and Spice Kitchen, it’s been a welcome shift as people cook their favourite takeaways at home. But will people expand on their cooking skills in the future and continue to create family meals at home?

Sanjay Aggarwal, owner of Spice Kitchen, believes they will: “I definitely think there will be a long-term change within the industry to purchasing online, experimenting more, and being frugal about using store cupboard ingredients. People seem to be getting more organised at home and are using this as an opportunity to declutter and maybe spend time and money searching for good-quality ingredients online. We’re also seeing an older audience shop with us who maybe previously would have shopped in-store. We see this as a possible long-term change, too.”

For Brits, this slower pace of life must also mean more time for tea – a boon for brands focusing on such products. 

“People are experiencing a major shift in perspective and questioning if the never-ending cycle of work and consumption is what makes us happy and fulfilled,” said Katia Sokoskaya, owner of artisan tea company, Nauteas. “When most superficial distractions of modern life are taken away from us, we realise that meaningful connections, getting fully absorbed in something such as cooking and making time for ourselves is all we really need. I think this will really start changing our society for the better.

“Good tea is all about slow enjoyment, so we will be building on that message in the months to come. The new shift in people’s perspective will only help us amplify what we’re trying to say.”

Support in the community
Whilst consumers are shopping more online, many are also making concerted efforts to support their local shops and family-run companies, in an effort to keep them in business during these difficult times. But whether or not they will stay loyal after lockdown could depend on how producers and business owners communicate with their customers moving forward, and how they adapt their business models in line with new behaviours.

Alison Lea Wilson is a member of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, sits on the Fine Foods Cluster Group for Wales, and is the co-founder and owner at Halen Mon, the Anglesey Sea Salt Company. She said, “I think people are connecting more with producers and understanding the challenges of making or growing the food and getting it to the plate. You know that someone has made your cheese, but until you see a video of them talking about the issues of their supply chain drying up, and offering the cheeses for full-price if you can afford it, half-price if you can’t stretch to that, or free if you’re really struggling, then you haven’t fully grasped their everyday challenges.

“Brands have the opportunity to try different business models, to join forces with like-minded producers and explore new routes to market. It’s not to say we will all necessarily have to change the way we work in the future, but nothing will ever be quite the same again, that’s for sure.”

Naturally, these unprecedented times will come with their own challenges, both positive and negative, as Alison said, “The challenges are both positive and negative: we can play with the ways we interact with the end customer in a positive way, but we need to hang onto ground we’ve fought hard for, too.” She continues, “For customers, I believe they can continue their relationships with producers, helping to shape new products and new routes to market, understanding the supply chain and unravelling some of its complexities.”

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