Since mid-March, as millions of Americans have hunkered down at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hartman research indicates that consumers have adapted their food preparation strategies to align with the realities of the times.

Couple cooking in the kitchen

Consumers are altering their meal planning, shopping, and cooking behaviors as they learn to cope with the reality of the COVID-19 health crisis. To understand how the coronavirus pandemic impacts consumers’ lives near- and long term, The Hartman Group has been conducting ongoing qualitative and quantitative research around this constantly evolving situation.

One thing that has clearly stood out to us is how quickly consumers are finding new avenues to meet both ongoing and emerging needs. Some of these needs existed prior to the COVID-19 crisis and are quite foundational. These needs, like parents trying to feed their kids, in general, or just trying to please everyone who's sitting at a meal together, specifically, are taking on an elevated sense of urgency.

Although the pandemic is altering consumers’ lives and lifestyles in many ways, we see five shifts in shopping and cooking that are key.

Stocking Up for Health

How food works in a household has changed in many ways — and what is consumed is changing, too.

Most households are seeing significant change to their shopping, cooking, and eating routines. Engaging in comfort food consumption for emotional well-being, consumers are also proactively stocking pantries for physical health.

The Hartman Group’s Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report finds that almost a third of consumers say they’re consuming more supplements, functional foods, or functional beverages. This can take the form of adopting entirely new solutions or rededicating oneself to regular use of familiar ones. These efforts to address mental and physical health reflect holistic notions of health and wellness, and consumer desire for empowerment and resilience.

Cooking More During COVID-19

The Hartman Group/FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker: July 14–20, 2020 report finds that with little choice in restaurant options and shelter-in-place orders, consistently around 40% of consumers say they have been cooking more compared to before the pandemic. While many say they expect to cook more in a post-pandemic future, many also report cooking fatigue looking for interesting food and minimizing time spent cooking. With Americans cooking more, they are also more likely to say they are eating healthier than not.

Shifting Cooking Priorities: Cooking Fatigue Sets

The Hartman/FMI COVID-19 Tracker report also finds that as the pandemic era has progressed, initial enthusiasm for cooking more has subsided to some degree. Cooking fatigue has been marked by greater interest in time-saving convenience and increasing interest in preparing something interesting to eat. At the same time, early priorities for making ends meet are back to similar levels last seen in April.

Shifting cooking priorities

Looking Forward to More Cooking

When asked about the post-pandemic future in the COVID-19 Tracker study, almost half of American adults (49%) say they expect to continue to prepare meals at home more frequently than their pre-pandemic norms. Few (8%) imagine they will cook less often. While uncertainty swirls around the timing and character of a post-pandemic food landscape, consumers expect to use restaurants less (39%), and they understand that they have learned new cooking skills (22%) and have learned how to better plan meals across the week (29%).

Rather Than Replacing Restaurant Occasions With Ready-to-Eat Options, Consumers Are Opting to Cook

According to The Hartman Group’s COVID-19’s Impact on Eating report (fielded Spring 2020), instead of replacing restaurant-sourced foods and beverages with ready-to-eat options, consumers are instead choosing to cook more. However, the desire for culinary assistance, an important consideration on 24% of occasions, also increased (+3% pts from 2019). This suggests that while consumers are cooking more often, they still need some level of assistance (e.g., use of cooking or simmer sauces to add flavor).

Degree of preparation among all occasions

Hartman’s analysis of eating occasions data finds that despite the comfort food cravings fed through social media, in practice, eaters seek to enliven their routine food categories with new flavors. As boredom has likely set in, the desire for new flavors is most evident during dinner when adults are also more likely to engage in heavier levels of cooking in lieu of sourcing from restaurants.

To learn more about The Hartman Group’s resources and capabilities tracking consumers’ changing behaviors during the time of COVID-19, please contact: