How consumers shop for groceries has been undergoing dramatic changes since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps most visibly in the spike in use of online grocery services as shoppers, wary of leaving their homes, increased their use of digital services ranging from Instacart and delivery to click and collect. Describing results from its recently released U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends 2020 report (research for which was completed by The Hartman Group), FMI—The Food Industry Association (FMI) noted in a recent article, "In early 2020, 14.5% of grocery spending was online, a significant increase over the previous year. However, COVID-19 greatly accelerated the move to online grocery shopping with online spending doubling to 27.9% of all grocery spending during March and April. Many shoppers are new to online grocery shopping and have been willing to break previous barriers, including 12% reporting purchasing fresh produce online for the first time."

While pre-pandemic use of online grocery skewed toward younger consumers, the current shift toward digital food retail has crossed new demographic boundaries, with older shoppers and households without children participating. Analyzing the topic of online grocery from the consumer perspective, Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt participated in a recent FMI webinar (How COVID-19 Is Reshaping Online Shopping) and described some of the primary motivations behind the shift to online: “I think from an experiential standpoint, there's been some mixed emotions about [online grocery], but clearly the motivations for shopping online are really important here. In the past (pre-pandemic), people would typically go online because they thought it would help save time or save money — and that's still important, but clearly the issue of the motivating factor right now is safety. So, in that way, online has truly delivered for consumers who are worried about going into places, where there are a lot of people gathered, and that experience has been really positive in the sense that it's made them feel better about health, and the health of their family. I think certainly the online experience has had some of the same shortcomings that brick and mortar did (with some of the out of stocks and delivery delays). But that certainly hasn't colored their vision of what online can do … in their lives. Moving ahead, the experience on the whole has been positive … and I think a lot of consumers want to do online and see how it can really be life changing to them.”

Since the start of the pandemic, The Hartman Group has been conducting ongoing qualitative and quantitative research into how COVID-19 has impacted consumers’ lives. Results of research conducted for FMI in both the U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends 2020 report and ongoing COVID-19 Tracker studies are available here. In other ongoing Hartman Group qualitative research, we find that in terms of changes driven by COVID-19, consumers are navigating an unprecedented shift in American society that will have lasting effects on U.S. food culture, changing consumers’ collective and individual experiences in both broad and targeted ways. Specifically, we find that consumers are reevaluating the very necessity of shopping trips and turning to larger, less frequent trips and alternative modes of sourcing perceived to be safer, such as online and click and collect.

To better understand the consumer search for new solutions, as we look ahead in 2020, we are undertaking new research on how consumers procure food in a diversity of ways in our new Food Sourcing in America 2020 study. The Food Sourcing in America 2020 study will examine current behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic and explore how such behaviors might become part of the new normal when it comes to food sourcing. In addition to updating relevant data sets around food shopping, the study will look at food sourcing more broadly, 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:

FMI—The Food Industry Association: U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends 2020 report, webinars and COVID-19 Tracker reports. More information here.

New Hartman Group Syndicated Research: Food Sourcing in America 2020

Hartman Group Newsletter: