Online shopping concept

As the pandemic continues to impact consumers’ lives and alter behaviors, you can count on The Hartman Group to help you navigate and make sense of the changes that impact your business. Now, during this time of crisis and uncertainty, it is even more important to understand the evolving consumer behaviors regarding food sourcing and what they might look like in the future.

Here are three key findings from our latest work about how consumers adapted food procurement due to COVID-19.

2020 Was the Year of Online Grocery Shopping

While job loss has been one of the many cascading consequences on consumers’ lives as a result of COVID-19’s upending of macro and micro forces, the pandemic has accelerated trends such as the adoption of digital technologies and e-commerce, pushing consumers to purchase products online.

Already on the rise in recent years, participation in online grocery shopping skyrocketed in 2020 as pandemic fears and stay-at-home orders prompted many shoppers to source groceries online more frequently or even for the first time. 

Among U.S. shoppers (among all shoppers, non-trended audience, 18-74 years old):

  • 56% bought groceries online in the past 30 days
  • 55% are now Amazon Prime members (vs. 45% in 2017)
  • 44% bought at least 5% of their food/ groceries online in the past month
  • 27% now shop online for groceries more than before COVID-19

Just like pre-pandemic times, online shopping is largely driven by a desire for convenience. However, the increased traffic observed in online shopping is the direct result of new drivers specifically tied to COVID-19: 14% shopped online for groceries for the very first time during COVID-19.

Consumer Affinity for Private Label Gains Traction

Already making headway in recent years, private label brands were well positioned to accelerate in the COVID-19 shopping environment. COVID-19 has boosted the performance of private labels. The gains in consumer affinity for such labels are only expected to become larger in a post-pandemic world.

Increased emphasis on unavailability of usual products and budget have pushed store brands into the consideration set for a broader set of shoppers, and many like what they see.

Compared to before the pandemic, one-fifth (22%) of shoppers say they now rely more on private label products, and half of these (52%) expect to continue purchasing such labels even as major concerns about COVID-19 subside.

While consumers may see store brands as a way to save on quality products, it is not exclusively those with the lowest income levels who have leaned on private label in recent months. Consumers in a range of socioeconomic tiers show similar propensities to purchase store brands during the pandemic. With the erosion of economic certainty and job security, there are consumers across the income spectrum who are turning to thrift behaviors to mitigate any actual or potential economic challenges.

Say Goodbye to “Marketing to Mom”

After decades of "marketing to Mom," responsibility for shopping is becoming more diverse than ever, requiring shifts in how marketers conceptualize their target audience. Responsibility for grocery shopping also continues to evolve away from traditional norms, but this trajectory is now shaped by COVID-19.

In line with ongoing trends over the past several decades toward more sharing of household duties, men continue to take on a significant portion of grocery shopping. Both men and women, however, are now less likely to consider themselves the household’s primary shopper, compared to 2017.

The pandemic has created new shoppers within households, opening doors to greater sharing of responsibilities in the future. Rather than falling primarily to one member of the household (14% of shoppers say only one person in their household now does all the shopping), shopping responsibility is being distributed to best optimize the process, giving consumers experience with more fluid designation of the “shopper” role. 

Reflections on Moving Forward

Life remains uncertain for the foreseeable future, disrupting consumers’ routines and keeping them in a heightened state of anxiety. As such, shopping for food is now a more complex web that consumers must navigate, with a safety assessment embedded at each decision point.

Many shoppers who shifted their strategies due to COVID-19 are eager to return to their pre-pandemic ways, but some plan to maintain aspects of their new habits.

Familiarity, which can engender feelings of trust, nostalgia, and control, is essential to help consumers cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Products, retailers, and services that bolster these feelings will resonate particularly strongly with consumers during this time. They help consumers connect to a pre-pandemic time where safety and availability of CPG products could be taken for granted.

THG Food Sourcing in America 2020 cover

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced unprecedented disruptions to how consumers procure food, including disturbances to the supply chain, changes to how they plan their shopping trips and physically move through the store, and a meteoric rise of online shopping paired with a sudden interruption to restaurant dining. The Hartman Group’s Food Sourcing in America report takes an in-depth look at these changes to help food industry professionals understand the current landscape of food procurement and make viable predictions about the future. Get Report