Food predictions post COVID-19

I never quite believed that our shopping habits and retail environment could radically change, but in just a few short weeks everything is different. There is now a real appreciation of the independent sector and its role in the local community and the majority of consumers understand that worker safety is a justifiable priority.

Farm shops, delis and small independent specialist food shops have implemented employee protection initiatives while continuing to produce and sell safe, quality food. How will things change in the longer term when social distancing and other measures will be relaxed?

With restaurants and takeaways either closed or offering limited services, households have been forced to cook more often at home and from scratch. This shift has led to the increasing popularity of online cooking videos as consumers have rediscovered the pleasure of making meals in their own kitchens using locally sourced ingredients. This will only increase as more people work from home even when the pandemic is past. It is likely that we will place greater stock in the pleasure of dining in with family and friends. Independents can offer tasty and easy-to-prep meal solutions or devise nutritious menus, helping shoppers looking for guidance as they attempt more adventurous cooking with interesting ingredients.

With the importance of strict hygiene and food safety becoming a real consumer concern, better visibility and transparency on product sourcing and manufacturing is needed. Consumers will want reassurance that their food has been produced and shipped safely - we will all be examining food labels much more intensely with provenance a key selling point. Shoppers will also be on the lookout for in-store cleanliness and retail practices that demonstrate high levels of hygiene.

Research has shown that the public believe that animal products are the root cause of the virus. In China in particular consumers have become wary of fresh meat and fish. With the COVID-19 outbreak reputedly stemming from ‘wet markets’ this may further undermine our trust in meat, accelerating the demand for plant-based proteins and vegetarian meals. It could also lead to a renewed interest in buying British products from British farms.

While younger consumers have generally been used to online food ordering, more elderly shoppers have been ambivalent towards using the internet for their shopping. Having been forced to order a myriad of products for home delivery, a new generation have mastered online ordering and will be continuing to purchase through their computers, tablets and phones when it is convenient. Many independent retailers have started offering local delivery and click and collect, and this will surely become a new popular service with a wider range of consumers.

Finally, Google search data has revealed how the nation’s online behaviours have changed since lockdown. The absence of flour on supermarket shelves can be explained by the explosion of making homemade bread. Searches for sourdough recipes have increased 700%, scones 650%, flatbread 400% and soda bread 350%. Home baking is surely here to stay.


Sue Nelson

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