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Five Food Trends to Take Advantage of to Target the Pandemic Consumer

Five Food Trends to Take Advantage of to Target the Pandemic Consumer

COVID-19 has changed the way companies, manufacturers and consumers engage with food.

Pantries have once again become the heart of our homes, and interest in kitchen appliances has been growing over 50 percent in the past six months. Meal kits have made a comeback and healthy snacking searches are currently at an all-time high.

Thanks to changes wrought by the pandemic and the lockdown, consumers are making extremely different choices in the kitchen and the supermarket, resulting in surprising changes to the food industry. Everything from where we buy food to how we cook it has been altered. Here are some of the trends.

Related: Will Cloud Kitchens Emerge as the New Normal Post-Pandemic?

1. Functionality

As the pandemic forced consumers to think about health on a daily basis, people began focusing on food for its functional benefits. The mention of “immunity” in the context of food rose 27 percent between February 2019 and March 2020. Searches for berries on Google rose by 200 percent over the last 12 months, as well as mushrooms, herbs and spices.

California is the leading location when it comes to the functional food hype in the US, but Texas, New York and Florida are close behind. There are opportunities for any fortified food that contains bioactive ingredients, vitamins and minerals. “Immunity booster” is the key phrase, as well as sleep-supporting beverages to deal with stress and energy drinks to support increasing workloads.

2. Meat Replacements

US sales of plant-based meat substitutes increased 200 percent year-over-year for the week ending April 18, while sales of conventional meat increased by just 30 percent during that same period. As tens of thousands of meatpacking and food plant workers in the US contracted COVID-19, several plants were shut down and concerns arose about workers’ health and the entire meat supply chain.

The meatpacking system was built in a way that most meat in the country must flow through just a few manufacturers to get products like bacon and ground beef to the market. Thousands of farmers have planned the lives of their animals around a schedule that terminates at those meatpacking facilities, so closures create cascading problems throughout the agricultural world.

As ripple effects continue and stories about meatpacking cause some people to turn away from meat, everything that can be used to replace meat will grow – not only plant-based meat, but also any other sources of protein such as beans or texture substitutes like mushrooms.

3. Meal Kits and Edu-Cooking

Sun Basket, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh all experienced a substantial increase in demand. Meal kits had a cultural moment a few years ago, but never achieved widespread adoption. Cooking at home is now not only giving people activities, but also a sense of control during these uncertain times. Meal-kit companies are undertaking initiatives to capitalize on their quarantine-driven momentum.

The real question is, how long will it last? Consumers seem to use them for a short period of time as a kick-starter to get more used to the home cooking environment, but they reconsider their choice as soon as they gain more cooking skills. Many consumers also realize the growing cost of weekly meal kits, which are touted as cost-saving alternatives to grocery shopping.

4. Imperfection

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Ciao a tutti, what a fun night! We loved cooking with premium New Zealand food and wine tonight for this special #nzkitchenquarantine • New Zealand food and beverages come from distinctive local environments, with pure climates, soils, and ocean. It was a privilege to taste New Zealand here in Italy tonight. We share many similarities when it comes to our food and wine – as well as caring for people and place. Both countries are known for the beauty of our landscapes and the friendliness and integrity of our people.• I cooked tonight using products from @manukahealthnz @marisco_wines @orakingsalmon @puresouth_uk @zespri_kiwifruit_italia Thanks to my friends @jacindaardern and @galettigram – I’d love to visit you both in New Zealand when things are back to normal @nzte • For my recipes from tonight and to win a food hamper: https://www.newzealandbusiness.nz/kq #nzkitchenquarantine #kitchenquarantine #newzealandfoodandwine #kiwiquarantine

A post shared by Massimo Bottura (@massimobottura) on

Perfection is overrated. No Michelin star chef earned an award without burning a few meals. Now more than ever, social media has been allowing us to follow our favorite idols everywhere they go, from Massimo Bottura’s “Kitchen Quarantine” to José Andrés’s #RecipesforthePeople. We are getting a look into people’s kitchens, seeing them unshaved and in their pajamas.

Consumers don’t want to be reminded of what they don’t have or what they can’t do. They want to know they are not alone during their cooking failures. COVID-19 has given us a moment of pause to realize again the power of being human. Craving an emotional connection is currently at an all-time high. Brands that provide a sense of community, acceptance of imperfection and encouragement towards the process rather than the outcome will get on consumers’ radar and thrive in the long run.

5. Grocery Restaurant Hybrids

Consumers are looking for high-quality, trusted food delivered to them. Instacart app downloads for grocery delivery increased 215 percent between February 14 and March 15. In the weekend following COVID-19’s designation as a pandemic, downloads for Walmart’s grocery app increased 45 percent. And an increasing number of restaurants have decided not only to pivot toward a curbside model, but also to become touchless grocery stores.

A nationwide example is Panera, through their launch of the Panera Grocery platform. In an interview, executives explained how they were “seeing the availability they had in their supply chain and how it lined up with the needs.” The emotional attachment to neighborhood restaurants is far stronger than to Amazon or Whole Foods, for example, and generally there is extreme trust toward professional chefs, who “perfectly know what to cook and where to get the best ingredients.”