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2 Years Into Pandemic, Consumers Still Spending More During Shopping Trips

New data from Catalina also identifies high-performing categories during COVID-19 era
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Catalina data
The top 10 growth categories from Year 1 of pandemic, along with their subsequent performance in Year 2. (Source: Catalina Buyer Intelligence Platform)

This month, a lot of people are doing a flashback to how the world – and their own lives – changed when the novel coronavirus spurred shutdowns and served as a catalyst for a host of lifestyle changes. Shopper intelligence company Catalina has analyzed the impact of the two-year health event on the way people shop and eat.

While many of the changes were temporary due to shutdowns and other restrictions, some behaviors are lingering. According to Catalina's Buyer Intelligence Platform, people continue to shop less frequently but buy more when they are in-store. Spending per trip has risen an average of 22% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and average weekly spending on groceries has jumped 16%.

What people are buying has also shifted during the two-year span since the last “normal” period. Although some categories that experienced a bounce during the early months of the pandemic (remember breadmaking and the run on toilet paper?) have since slowed, several areas are still higher than they were before March 2020.

As one might expect with the semi-regular emergence of new variants, health and wellness and cleaning categories are still seeing interest. The home health categories encompassing COVID-19 tests and face masks surged a cumulative 602% in the past two years, with a 251% increase in 2020 and a 100% spike in 2021. Catalina found that items like hand soap and disinfectants dropped last year but are still higher than pre-COVID levels.

Over in food and beverage, three of the top 10 categories are foods geared toward comfort and convenience as people are still spending a good amount of time at home. Categories with continued strength include processed cheese slices, bacon and refrigerated cookie/brownie dough. The frozen breaded vegetable segment rose 89% in 2020 and 21% in 2021 for a 129% cumulative increase, demonstrating its staying power.

Meanwhile, the early-pandemic hobby of baking isn’t quite as hot as it was then, but the category is still up over 2019. Catalina’s research found that ingredients for from-scratch baking, such as yeast, flour and extracts, are experiencing higher sales than before the virus emerged even if the numbers have dipped a bit from 2020. Convenience-oriented baking items that offer shortcuts, like brownie, cookie and cornbread mixes, continue to sell well, the data shows. And consumers still have a craving for sweets, with sales of refrigerated snacks and cakes up 101% in 2020 and 16% the following year.

There has been some leveling off of adult beverages during the length of the pandemic, as people returned to dining and drinking away from home. That said, sales of pre-mixed cocktails and coolers rose 41% in last year following a 65% surge in 2020. All categories – including pre-mixed cocktails, domestic beer, imported beer, imported wine, domestic wine and spirits – are doing better than they did in 2019.

In addition to sharing its shopping data, Catalina uses the buyer intelligence in tandem with AI and machine learning tools to help retailers and CPG brands identify audiences and build strategies reflective of shoppers’ demands.

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