How Covid has changed our relationship with food

05 July 2021, 09:34 AM
  • Amid the flux of lockdown-related eating habits with the rise of Amazon and e-commerce, Thoughtworks’ UK retail engagement partner Khaarthigha Subramanian discusses what these changes mean for local food businesses

The rate and scale of change over the last year among consumers will have long-lasting effects on the food industry. Things that were once ‘added extras’ which were nice to have on special occasions, such as locally sourced products or next-day delivery, are rapidly becoming the norm.

Staying healthy, eating fresh and the ethics of food production have become more important issues to many – and people are now used to looking further and wider to get the things they need and want. According to the Kitchen Cooking Index by Premier Foods, Brits have been enjoying cooking and eating more meals at home over the past year, and one third of households have added a dish to their weekly evening meal routines. This is a watershed moment for the food industry, and the answers are powered by data and technology.

Changes are accelerating

At the start of this year, Thoughtworks commissioned UK consumer research to examine which factors people thought would become more important in shaping their food-buying decisions in the years ahead. The findings suggested that the experience of lockdown and social restrictions had accelerated changes in people’s relationship with food. Nationally, 78% of people commented on changing priorities in how they bought and consumed food. During the recent national lockdown, 22% of households were prompted to shop for their food and drink from a wider range of online sites and stores – and the internet also made it easier for people to express their support for local and artisan food producers.

More consumers than ever before have started to realise that fresh produce, frozen and ready meals, basic ingredients, boxed meals, and meal kits are now all available at a touch of a button. Online food shopping is becoming more tailored to those with specialist diets, allergies and ethical and environmental considerations.

The digital experience

The online food experience has also allowed more people to do their own research, to ask questions about the origins and ethics of where their food comes from and how it is grown and produced.

During lockdown, foods usually found only in restaurants also became a feature of home dining. Many fine food retailers, quick food service restaurants as well as ghost kitchens have successfully leveraged the pluralist choices of effective delivery service providers.

These delivery service providers showed absolute resilience in tough times of the pandemic, with a digital-at-core approach to cater to varying needs for different initiatives of grocers all along. Also, their omnichannel approach, customer centric technology, coupled with personalisation had a great reach pre- and post-pandemic.

The benefits of local

Isolation and lockdown fatigue experienced by many people across the globe is also an important consideration. According to Lumina, 52% of consumers are extremely likely to dine-in at restaurants. Fine food retailers provide unique services to consumers, like connection, variety, authenticity with experience, also healthy quick meals-to-go or a snack-to-go during work, and in-fresco dining.

Many fine food retailers and local grocers are already selling on Amazon’s Fresh platform in larger cities such as London, with co-servicing in different forms catering to the consumer’s needs – opportunities here are rich and diverse. Quick service restaurants and fine food retailers can capitalise on the post-Covid mindset of consumers by offering more delivery slots, modified subscription customer-centric approaches with safety precautions, varied services like meal-kits for specific dishes for consumers at home, live streaming of cooking tutorials, and eco-friendly packaging.

During the pandemic, some analysts predicted consolidation with smaller market players being partnered or acquired by the bigger brands. However, since many big players have shredded their branches in the last year, we predict another form of consolidation is inevitable. The broadening sense of consumer choice when it comes to food is powered by the possibilities that technology opens up. Covid has not simply accelerated the digitisation of food shopping – it has also accelerated our love of food and our awareness of its importance in our lives and for those in our communities.

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