Edible Spotlight: Food Sales Soared, Double-Digit Growth Common

Edible Spotlight: Food Sales Soared, Double-Digit Growth Common

By the Numbers: Top 5 Categories by Dollar Sales

  • General food department sales increased 14.1% to $124.5 billion. 

  • Refrigerated department sales increased 16.3% to $67.4 billion.

  • Beverage department sales increased 7.9% to $56.8 billion.

  • Frozen department sales increased 23.4% to $38.9 billion.

  • Liquor department sales increased 15.6% to $34.2 billion.

Years from now, behavioral psychologists will look back at the pandemic-induced shopper behaviors of 2020 and attempt to make sense of it all. Good luck. In times of crisis, panic buying begets panic buying, and that was certainly evident earlier this year, when shoppers bought certain categories because everyone else was.

Spending in edible grocery departments was also driven by the realization that with foodservice establishments forced to close due to social-distancing concerns, Americans would be eating nearly all of their meals at home. The result was a market-share shift of epic proportions between the two large areas of “food at home” and “food away from home,” with the former being what are generally thought of as food retailers and the latter being restaurants.

In recent years, food away from home had gradually overtaken food at home to account for more than half of total food sales. However, when the pandemic hit and Americans could no longer eat out, there was a sharp divergence between food at home and food away from home. The shift in behavior that had taken two decades to unfold was undone in two months, with a striking impact on the sales of edible categories in IRI’s measured channels. 

Never in the history of food retailing has so much change been thrust upon shoppers — and retailers — in such a condensed period of time. The result was wild gyrations in sales among major edible departments and key categories, where it took a sales increase of 30% or more to be ranked among the top 10 fastest growers.

Looking ahead, there are two great unknowns affecting the future of food retailers’ sales: The first is the severity and duration of COVID-19, and the second is the outlook for retail foodservice. If, and to what extent, the displaced demand that benefited food retailers the past seven months flows back to restaurants, food retailers could experience a boomerang effect.