While many aspects of the pandemic have started to resemble scenes from the movie Groundhog Day (do we need to elaborate?), of interest is a wide array of pandemic-driven consumer behaviors that have accelerated trends in place prior to COVID-19. 

Some of these trends were in their early days of growth and some were declining. One example is online grocery shopping, which pre-pandemic was still experiencing growing pains due to general consumer disinterest in purchasing certain products online (like produce), when shoppers preferred instead to shop physically for such items. All that has shifted, of course, and online grocery delivery (as well as other digital grocery acquisition methods like click-and-collect) has seen dramatic upswings in use. Other trends, like consumer use of salad bars in grocery stores, were already showing signs of a pre-pandemic decline, but it took COVID-19 to shut down a fairly underperforming retail section due to consumer (and retailer) worries about health and safety.

In terms of changing behaviors that link to diet and nutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified consumers’ ever-evolving interest in how functional foods and beverages can boost their health and wellness. Citing findings from our recent Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report, Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt recently spoke to this topic in a Specialty Food Association (SFA) "Ask the Experts" webinar, where she described the impact of the pandemic on demand for functional foods and beverages and shared recommendations for food makers.

As noted in an SFA article that covered the webinar, "According to Demerrit, COVID has accelerated trends that were already on the horizon before the pandemic, like customer preferences for organic and sustainable food. However, new issues brought on by the pandemic, like a tightening budget or an increased concern about food safety, have influenced the functional category as well. For example, consumers are taking a more proactive stance on their health, looking to what they eat to support physical, mental, and emotional health. In addition, the increase in home cooking has led consumers to seek innovative new recipes and techniques to involve in their routines.

"Consumers are looking to become more empowered and resilient to help propel them through this time of uncertainty. This has resulted in a stronger focus on health and wellness, which will open up new opportunities for functional products of all types. However, it’s important to keep in mind that products that lend themselves to health and wellness should also solve for resource constraints like time, energy, and money.”

Commenting further on the disrupted world that the public now navigates, Demeritt noted, “We have to be empathetic to the things that are happening in customers' lives … There is a shift from the ‘me’ to the ‘we’ mentality … Consumers are increasingly seeing conscious consumption as ‘the right way to do business’ rather than just a ‘nice’ thing.”

Further Hartman Group resources on these topics: