Fruits herbs and vegetables in a paper box

As 2020 draws to a close, looking back we note how COVID-19’s disruptive impacts on communities, households and individuals have triggered deeper examination of personal and collective approaches to health, safety and well-being. We’ve seen diverse attitudes and behaviors voiced by consumers, ranging from an inward-focused need for personal empowerment (reflected in a greater focus on immunity and proactive, holistic health) to community-focused thinking about systemic change: certainly, 2020 has caused Americans to be more aware of underlying vulnerabilities and inequities in social systems that support communal well-being.

Simultaneous to these personal and socially oriented anchor points, fundamental, day-to-day behaviors relating to eating, cooking, food shopping and sourcing foods and beverages from restaurants have also undergone enormous disruption and alteration: one interesting trend that knitted together many disparate changes in all these areas was the huge shift to online and digital sources used to procure foods and beverage. As an ongoing trend, the big shift to online has been undertaken largely for the perceived safety of not having to source foods and beverages in person, but it also opened up new possibilities for discovery and convenience.

Certainly, 2020 has had its impacts on consumers in both personal and social spheres: we’ve documented those changes throughout the year in our blogs, newsletters, infographics and special report downloads, but we’ve also been asking consumers how they think their habits might change in 2021 in our various syndicated studies (e.g., what might they do more of “once the pandemic subsides?”).

Our Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report had a special deep-dive chapter on the impact of COVID-19 and found that most consumers said they anticipated that at least some of the changes they have been forced to make during the pandemic will continue post-COVID-19. Highest on the list include pledges around healthier living and eating as well as more frequent cooking at home and online shopping. As examples, asked what they might do “after the threat of the coronavirus has passed,” 39% of COVID-19-aware consumers said they'd exercise more, and 27% said they'd improve their diet. Asked the same question, 34% said they'd cook at home more often, and 23% said they'd shop online more. Similarly, 19% said they'd consume more functional foods, and 16% said they'd consume more functional beverages and supplements (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Anticipated Changes After Threat Has Passed (Among COVID-19-Aware Consumers)

Source: Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 report (Click to Enlarge)

Do More After Pandemic Has Passed chart

In terms of how they think their shopping behaviors might change after the pandemic, our Food Sourcing in America July/August 2020 report asked shoppers to think about what adjustments they'd made due to COVID-19 and what they might do “when COVID-19 is no longer a major concern.” In response, we found a diversity of opinions on what consumers might do post-pandemic: while current shopping solutions are working for many shoppers, others are eager to get back to pre-COVID-19 approaches — or at least something similar.

As examples, among shopping adjustments made due to COVID-19, 44% said they buy at least 5% of their groceries online, and among those, 46% said they thought they'd continue to do so post-pandemic: 32% of these shoppers said they'd return to what they did before COVID-19, and 22% thought they'd be somewhere in between. On wearing masks into grocery stores, 40% said they were doing it now, and 40% of those thought they'd continue such behavior post-pandemic: 32% of these shoppers thought they’d do it less, and 28% thought they were somewhere in between (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Adjustments Made to Shopping Due to COVID-19 and Plans for the Future

(Amongst All Shoppers)

Source: Food Sourcing in America July/August 2020 (Click to Enlarge)

When Covid-19 is over excerpt chart

Looking Forward from the Consumer Perspective

COVID-19 has contributed to an already widespread sense of anxiety and uncertainty in America in addition to its direct impacts on Americans’ health and household resources. Disruptive impacts to daily routines are particularly acute among younger consumers and people of color, and the crisis is already changing how Americans envision the future on both individual and collective levels.

Going forward, health is likely to retain a higher prioritization in many households — although aspirational health and wellness practices are still likely to be at odds with fragmented, busy modern lifestyles. Behaviors and solutions that lend health and wellness support while also solving for resource constraints are most likely to stick and to be appreciated by consumers.

Consumers’ anticipation that their consumption of functional food and beverage solutions will rise post-COVID-19 reflects the potential of such categories to empower consumers in their efforts to care for themselves and their families.

As consumers look forward to a moment when they feel safer shopping in person, some are eager to return to how they shopped prior to the pandemic. But the greatest opportunity lies with those who are happy to continue shopping as they are now or to return to habits that fall somewhere in between what they’re doing now and what they did before.

Online shopping growth may well accelerate as adaptive use during the pandemic becomes normalized and appreciated for its convenience. To retain new online shoppers who have primarily shifted to the online version of their preferred brick-and-mortar banner, the in-store and online shopping experiences should share similar features, and transition between the two should be as seamless as possible.