Driven by worries about health and safety in the pandemic, consumers are shifting their physical grocery shopping patterns away from "experiential food shopping" and toward utilitarian behaviors. As noted by FMI — The Food Industry Association in their most recent U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker Report (research conducted by The Hartman Group), "From the beginning of the pandemic, shoppers have reported a shift toward more functional styles of grocery shopping (fewer, larger, quicker trips, for a narrower range of items), and about a quarter say they shop online more."

Of interest, these compressed, utilitarian grocery shopping behaviors occur in parallel to a rationalization of SKUs within food retail as supermarkets and CPG manufacturers slim product assortments. This trend was analyzed in a recent Food Dive article ("Less is more: Why retailers and CPGs are moving toward selling fewer products in stores") that notes, "As the coronavirus pushes some items off supermarket shelves, the food industry is finding a smaller selection reduces consumer confusion, boosts sales and trims expenses for grocers."

Disruptions in shopping patterns and product assortments wrought by the pandemic underscore the importance of continued innovation and adaptation across the food industry. COVID-19 has not only radically altered many aspects of the food industry and culture but, in some cases, also accelerated and amplified pre-pandemic dynamics in eating, cooking, and shopping. Even before the pandemic, shoppers were questioning the traditional grocery store model offering broad product selection and were beginning to express preferences for stores with more streamlined product assortments that focused more on quality than quantity. The shift toward scaled-down, rationalized store assortments and shelf space will have broad impacts across the industry and food culture. For brands that already control the lion’s share of their category, fewer competitors on the shelf gives them an opportunity to further strengthen their dominance. Yet for consumers, the sweet spot of a pared-down product assortment likely sits at a well-curated mix of private label, national, regional, and local brands. The importance of innovation as a crucial strategy for manufacturers to keep retailer interest, grab shelf space, and attract new shoppers is likely to grow. 

In addition to our work analyzing shopper behavior with FMI, we are also currently fielding our study Food Sourcing in America 2020, which looks broadly at how consumers procure foods and beverages, with a special focus on tech-driven innovations in meal planning and food shopping, and how new at-home food prep and cooking routines are changing consumer habits.

More information:

The Hartman Group’s Food Sourcing in America 2020 study

FMI — The Food Industry Association: U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker Report