The coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every aspect of our life, and eating habits are certainly no exception. What, where, and how we’re making and consuming our food has transformed dramatically in the past eight weeks alone.
At today’s virtual event Changing Food Habits in the Era of COVID-19, Susan Schwallie of market research firm NPD Group dug into the data on how the pandemic is shifting the way that we eat. Some you might be able to guess (more carbs and online grocery), but NPD’s numbers give some surprising insight into where and what we’re eating right now — especially at home. Here are a few of the biggest shifts she’s seen:
More Eating at Home
Unsurprisingly, as restaurant dining rooms around the country shuttered in March and consumers began working from home, people started to eat more at home. Schwallie noted that there was about a 6 percent lift in the number of meals consumers ate at home this April, compared to the same time period last year.
That might not seem like a lot. But according to Schwallie, “these are actually massive numbers.” Consumers already ate about 80 percent of their meals at home, a carryover from the shift away from restaurants after the 2008 recession, so that additional six percent equates to millions of meals.
The Return of the Sandwich
Not only are people eating more at home, what they’re eating is also shifting because of the pandemic. Schwallie noted that consumers are cooking in big batches, relying on leftovers, and buying private label and less expensive brands to make their dollars go further. As she pointed out, these shifts are pretty similar to what happened in the wake of the 2008 Recession — only now, disruptions in the supply chain are causing temporary shortages of products like flour, yeast, and pasta.
The Recession also saw the rise of brown bag lunches — something that’s not exactly relevant now. In fact, Schwallie noted that lunch is the meal experiencing the biggest shift lately, as office workers no longer pick up food to-go from restaurants. “It’s the return of the sandwich,” she said.
In fact, the food with the biggest spike in at-home consumption since the pandemic began? Lunch meat. (The beverage with the biggest spike is — you guessed it — wine.)
The Rise of Niche Appliances (and Carbs)
With more people cooking at home, it’s no surprise that we’re relying more heavily on kitchen appliances. But the type of appliances may be surprising. Schwallie said that in the week ending March 7 — around the time that people were realizing they might be at home a lot over the coming months — there was double-digit growth in sales of niche food and beverage appliances like soda makers, grills, pasta machines, and pizza ovens.
She noted that “carb-related categories” also experienced an uptick in home usage: waffle makers, air fryers, rice cookers, bread makers, etc. One obvious reason is that consumers are turning to comfort food right now. Schwallie also pointed out that as people get into cooking ruts, they might dust off specialized appliances to spice up their meal routine.
Switching to Online and Digital
“COVID has been an accelerator for everything online and digital,” Schwallie stated towards the end of the event. That’s certainly true for the food sector. She noted that third-party grocery delivery experienced a nearly 300 percent increase in sales in April alone.
As we’ve covered pretty extensively here on The Spoon, restaurants are also making rapid pivots to go digital. Schwallie said that online ordering for takeaway orders from restaurants is on the rise, as are ghost kitchens built to fulfill said orders.
So which of these trends will stick around once shelter in place orders lift and we’re able to return to restaurants? Schwallie named ghost kitchens and online grocery orders as some of the technology that will carry over into the post-COVID world, for sure. Baking bread and using our waffle makers, though? Those trends might not have the same staying power.
Next Thursday we’ll be back with a virtual event on The Future of Kitchen Design in a Post-COVID World, with Johnny Grey. Sign up — and check out our schedule of upcoming online events — here.
You can watch today’s event in full below: