Fresh Food Makes Pandemic-Stressed Consumers Happy

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Fresh Food Makes Pandemic-Stressed Consumers Happy

By Thad Rueter - 10/13/2020
Fresh Food Makes Pandemic-Stressed Consumers Happy
Consumers turn to alternative products and other measures when fresh food is out of stock.

What made consumers happy during the pandemic?

Fresh food -- at least according to Deloitte.

In its new “The Future of Fresh: Patterns from the Pandemic” report, Deloitte found that nine of 10 survey respondents said that fresh food literally makes them happy. The findings were based on interviews of 2,000 adults (age 18 to 70) in the United States who influenced fresh food purchases in their households. The interviews were conducted in July.

While price continues to be a primary driver of fresh food purchase decisions, safety has emerged as a prominent factor, both of which rate 85% or higher in importance to customers.

Though a majority of consumers (70%) still value drivers like sustainability and locally sourced foods, they are now less urgent than they were last year.

Fewer Shopping Trips

Happiness about fresh food isn't all that consumers are feeling, however.

Deloitte also found that more than half of consumers surveyed (54%) feel stressed by in-store shopping. That matters to retailers, because the stress leads to in fewer visits to stores and less frequent shopping trips.

In the past year, the numbers of respondents who shopped for fresh food multiple times a week dropped by half (30% in 2019 versus 15% in 2020). In fact, based on credit card analysis, grocery stores are seeing less of some of their best fresh-purchasing customers, as consumers who shop at least once a week comprise 80% of fresh food sales.

Consumers stockpiled food at the onset of the pandemic and continue to do so to some extent, the report found. This increased demand and other supply-chain disruptions created unprecedented challenges for food manufacturers and grocery stores, resulting in stockouts for many categories, including fresh food. The survey found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers responded that they'd been unable to buy the fresh food they wanted, because it was out of stock.

Alternative Purchases

Instead of going to another store, consumers are buying alternative food items, or simply going without, in an attempt to minimize shopping trips. When faced with a stockout during the past four months, more than 40% typically purchased an alternative fresh food item, and more than half of respondents left the fresh food category entirely, either to buy a frozen or processed replacement (28%), or not buy anything as a replacement (26%).

Until recently, safety was expected and not a primary concern in the fresh food category. However, consumers are increasingly focused on safety — for themselves, other shoppers, store employees, and the workers who produce food. Consumers now indicate that safety is virtually of the same importance as price when it comes to fresh food selection (nearly 90% of respondents said that these two categories are important purchase drivers).

“Shifting consumer priorities and new habits brought on by COVID-19 continue to impact the fresh food category,” said Barb Renner, vice chairman of New York-based Deloitte LLP, and U.S. consumer products leader. “With consumers spending less time commuting, they have more time to prepare fresh meals. However, they are conflicted and want to avoid the anxiety of shopping at multiple stores to purchase the fresh items they want. As consumers reduce the frequency of their fresh food purchases, there is a clear need for retailers to better understand and engage these emerging consumer personas to drive omnichannel growth.”