Social distancing and self-isolation brought on by COVID-19 are causing unprecedented changes in consumer behavior, according to The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) Consumer Trust Insights Council (CTIC), which brings together food industry thought leaders to explore emerging trends every month.
Along with stockpiling items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and canned goods, the CTIC found that shoppers are coping with their anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic by indulging in guilty food pleasures.
While consumers are purchasing healthy foods as a preventive measure, sales of treats such as chocolate, cookies and sweet beverages are rising. If practices like social distancing and isolation continue for long, the CTIC predicts that people will keep seeking out such small indulgences to give them solace during uncertain times.
The CTIC has been meeting once a month since December for roundtable discussions. Their analysis highlights early signals of emerging trends that food companies can use to make strategic decisions. During the March roundtable, members said that the coronavirus pandemic is also accelerating a “homing” trend that has been building over the last few years.
“The world is a bit of a scary place. The home has been a very comforting spot where we can get all of our entertainment and we can get just about anything delivered to us,” said Susan Schwallie, executive director of the NPD Group Food and Beverage practice. “Your home is your sanctuary.”
Several factors are driving this at-home economy, Schwallie said. Millennials see food as a social occasion and like to gather in their homes to share food with friends. Meal delivery services make it possible to eat restaurant food at home.
As the situation around the world changes rapidly, so does the potential impact on the food system. As to whether these changes will be long-lasting, only time will tell.