7 Ways Covid-19 Has Changed Consumers’ Shopping Behaviours 

blog Jun 16, 2020

The picture of people shopping in face masks does not tell the story in its entirety, but it does tell part of the story of what has transpired across the globe in the past six months. Just over six months ago, a health crisis bore its roots in the city of Wuhan, China. A crisis that would soon be declared a global pandemic. No one had any idea that it would disrupt the entire world from corner to corner and affect every aspect of human life, from food shopping trends to their social interaction habits. It is very evident that this global pandemic has hit different sectors differently. The food industry touches everyone, and it’s one industry that is evolving and adapting to meet the new shopping needs of consumers. In this article we focus on the impact that Covid-19 has had on consumers’ food shopping habits.


Brand loyalty only goes as far as availability of products

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, some consumers were very loyal to specific brands and would never consume products from any other brands. They were willing to wait for as long as it took their brands to restock the shelves. Loyalty to brands is now tied to the availability of the products, when they are needed. Most consumers are now willing to try out other brands that they had never tried before, or perhaps wouldn’t have, as long as the products that they need are available. Before Covid-19, the top priorities for consumers were; quality, price and brand. Now, it is availability, price and quality.


The supply chain has been disrupted and so has the production sector. Keeping up with consumers’ demand, especially for essential products like food, has proven to be difficult. Many people have experienced shortages at stores.


 At the same time, many have also discovered new brands that have totally impressed them and they might end up shifting their loyalty towards those brands even after the “new normal” is achieved.


The bottom line is, if you have a brand people trust already, do everything you can to ensure there are no supply chain issues or your shopper will turn elsewhere.

Consumers’ spending has generally declined

Millions of people have lost their jobs across the world, some have received huge pay cuts and some were sent on unpaid leaves. Incomes have dramatically decreased. Most people are turning away from discretionary spending and only focusing on buying the essential products like food, health and hygiene supplies. 


Before Covid-19, it was not uncommon to spot many diners sitting in a restaurant or an eat-out facility enjoying ready made meals. Now, most people are cooking at home and avoiding the extra expenses that they might have to incur at the restaurants. 

It is still too early to predict whether this is something that will continue post Covid-19 or people will get back to eating out like they used to do. Surveys show that there are those that plan to keep up their cooking at home habits, while there are those that plan to go back to their old habits of eating out once it is safe to do so. For those that will continue to cook at home, consumer packaged goods they trust will become a more important part of their everyday life and an important place for brands to capture.


What most people agree on is the huge impact that the pandemic has had on the economy and how much their household incomes have been negatively affected. Some are quite optimistic about a quick economic recovery, while others are pessimistic and they think that it will take years to gain a proper economic “healing” from this pandemic. We believe that most people will continue reduced spending patterns post Covid-19. 


Consumers have been stockpiling 

Most people never stockpiled their cupboards and freezers like they do now. But, with increased out-of-stock stores, and people looking to minimize the number of trips they need to take to stores, Covid-19 has led to people changing their shopping behaviours and has them stocking up on all their household staples more than we’ve seen in decades.

Until recently, it was unthinkable that the world would be facing scarcities of staple products like food. People are used to the basic necessities being readily available and in any quantities that they wish for. Well, this has not been the case since the outbreak of coronavirus and consumers are having to adapt to the changing food shopping landscape. It sometimes almost looks like a jungle and survival is only ‘guaranteed’ for the fittest.


During the early days of the pandemic, some sort of crowd mentality would set in and seeing others stock up, (leading to scarcity of the basic necessities like food) validated the decision to also stock up as no one wants to be left out. The lack of straight forward information and lots of conflicting information about the virus also led to people stockpiling. It is the nature of human beings to over-prepare when they are not sure about something.


This food shopping trend of stockpiling might continue after the pandemic as most people would want to remain as prepared as possible, just in case the world is faced with something similar.


As a food brand, take advantage of this by ensuring stores always have ample stock of your product and offer bundle offers where it makes sense to help shoppers stock up on your brand.


Consumers are resorting to more online shopping

E-commerce was already on the rise before the pandemic. As much as there is truth in that, not all sectors had completely embraced e-commerce. Before Covid-19, Grocery had been an industry slow to adapt to online shopping. Most people were used to physically visiting the grocery stores and purchasing what they wanted. The current times have made it necessary for grocery shopping stores to incorporate online systems for grocery shopping. The high demand has forced grocery stores to offer online sales at a time when many of the grocery chains were at a semi-experimental stage when it comes to online sales, due to the relatively low demand for online grocery shopping that has been witnessed in the previous years. The stores that have been able to successfully launch online grocery shopping services are definitely bound to enjoy huge food business success during these current times of uncertainty.


Due to the social distancing measures that were put in place and the general concern that people have over their health, most people have resorted to online shopping and very few people visit the brick-and-mortar stores for their food shopping. Online food sales have dramatically gone up since the Covid-19 pandemic started and businesses that had not taken their online presence seriously have had to strategize afresh and find a way of offering online services.

Current times have presented a golden chance for all food retailers and everyone in the food business to experience food business growth online as so many people are shopping for food supplies and an opportunity to offer something unique that will capture the high demand that is currently available, has presented itself for all the food businesses.


Apps like Shipt, Instacart and many other delivery apps have increased downloads tremendously. People are looking for ways to reduce contact channels to get goods and services.


However, it is very difficult to foresee whether a large share of consumers will stay loyal to online shopping, especially in the sectors like grocery shopping, where online shopping was not as popular before. Or people will go back to the brick-and-mortar store experience once it is safe to do so. Most people have missed the social experience that comes with physically visiting the stores; and the convenience offered by the online shopping channels may not make up for the social experience that they have missed for so many weeks. 


Consumers have become more conscious about what they consume

Apart from buying more local products and embracing digital commerce, consumers have become more alert to the kind of products that they consume and the ingredients that make up these products. Personal health has become a big priority for many consumers. Most people’s eating habits are now more inclined to healthier foods. Well, this is a trend that was already growing in the food and beverage industry before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has continued to grow even more during these uncertain times of health problems.


People want to stay as healthy as possible and are putting more thought into the types of foods that they eat. More people are leaning towards consumption of plant based proteins and healthy snacks. Surveys show that people are now more conscious about the labels on products and are more keen on finding out what makes up the products that they are consuming, for example whether they are GMO or non-GMO products, the sugar levels and many more.


Consumers are now more conscious about the hygiene and cleanliness of the products that they eat. More people are washing food products that require washing before consumption. People are also keen on ensuring cleanliness of their surroundings and the cleanliness of where they get their food products from.


The emergence of proactive health-minded buying and reactive health management by consumers is something that we cannot ignore. Different studies about the Covid-19 pandemic have shown that healthier individuals have higher chances of surviving the infection than individuals with underlying medical conditions. Poor food choices cause some of these underlying medical conditions. Consumers are no longer blind to that fact; hence they are turning to healthier food purchases.


Consumers are holding brands to new standards

As consumers’ food shopping trends continue to evolve, the different retail brands are not left behind. They are forced to adapt as consumers are holding them to new standards during this pandemic. These standards are expected to continue even after the pandemic. Consumers now want to be in the know when it comes to the ways in which the different brands are operating during these uncertain times, how they are taking care of their employees. Current and future buying decisions by consumers will most likely be affected by how brands respond to the Covid-19 crisis. 


Consumers expect brands to shift their operations and priorities and adapt to the current challenges. Consumers expect brands to help the society in the ways they can manage, for example giving donations to help fight the pandemic. Brands are also expected to implement measures that increase safety of their employees and customers, regardless of how costly these measures are.


Consumers are now watching brands through a different lens. They expect brands to behave in the best and most noble ways possible. A misstep in how these brands treat or handle their employees could completely ruin consumers’ trust in these brands. Simply selling good food will not help these brands realize food business success. Consumers are now more keen than ever, on how these brands handle their business. Consumers are keen on how the food business brands achieve their food business growth during these times when food supplies are in high demand and it could be tempting for some businesses to develop bad practices like overpricing, just to make the most out of the situation.


Brands are expected to instead do more to help the society in the good course of fighting the pandemic and helping those that are heavily impacted by it. These times call for Branding Beyond Logos. It is clear consumers are now looking for more than just brand logos or brand names and the quality of food/any other products that these brands offer. These are crucial times that require businesses to show their customers what more they can offer apart from their great products and good looking logos. It is a time for food businesses that serve a whole great experience (along with their delicious products) to shine! 

Just like the subtitle of Branding Beyond Logos  by Ainsley Moir says, it is time for brands to, “Stand out. Sell more and turn customers into advocates!”


Consumers are more engaging and responsive to online content

Due to the “stay at home” measures that were put in place in most countries around the world, many people have found themselves on their phones or laptops most of the time. Even though this was a notable trend even before the pandemic started and lockdown measures were put in place, recent surveys have shown that the number of people who spend time on their phones and those that consume online content have increased. 


Email marketing is one of the viable ways to connect and reach out to customers. Recent surveys show that email deliveries, their open rates, click throughs and conversions have all increased. 


There has been a major increase in the consumption of online video content and brands should consider more ways to reach consumers online, for example though media platforms like Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. More page clicks, more questions and reviews have been seen during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic as more people have been spending more time consuming online content and shopping for products online. 


This growing trend should help accelerate innovation in e-commerce across multiple industries. Companies should also work hard to improve e-commerce experience for their customers by improving delivery time of the products that they offer online and also updating their product descriptions on their webpages. Brands need to engage with their customers more than ever. 


Wrapping up 

We are still living in uncertain times, and even as a few social distancing measures are being eased, consumers’ shopping behaviors continue to change. What can certainly be said is that brands that keep their purpose at the forefront will be well positioned to maintain sales and trust of their customers in the long term. 

Brands that have managed to offer seamless and informative online experience are set to succeed during this challenging time.


CPG companies will need to figure out and understand how their customers are reacting and then come up with customized and personalized strategies for marketing. Times have completely changed and the “one-size fits all” type of marketing will not be enough anymore. 


Finally, understanding the areas where the most changes have taken place and predicting which ones will likely stick, will enable food companies to position themselves to adapt and achieve food business growth and ultimately food business success!


The negative impact of Covid-19 on the global economy is greater than that of the Great Depression. Millions of people have lost jobs and many retailers are closing their doors. It is time for brands to develop themselves anew and come up with strategies that will suffice the demands of the new economy. Most of the habits developed during this pandemic will continue, but others will fade over time.


If you need help developing your brand to set up up for success today and as we march into this new food future, the Healthy Food and Beverage team is here to help you grow.  See how we help brands here, or reach out to us directly here.


Published by Healthy Food & Beverage Group Contributor Calvin Wasambla


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