Food and Beverage

The Not-So-Obvious (but Lasting) Impact COVID Made on Canadian Food Consumption

Kathryn Easter

There’s a reason you’re reading and hearing about COVID 19 at every turn; simply put, it currently affects almost every decision we make, and that includes decisions as consumers. “COVID consumerism” may not yet be a widely-recognized term, but with Canadians on the backend of 12 months of COVID, it can’t be far off. Back in March, with lockdowns first pending, we first saw “hoarding” tendencies emerge with marked increases in purchases of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and the coveted can of spray disinfectant. Long lineups at grocery stores soon shifted to a boom in online shopping delivery services, and now, seven months in, we are beginning to better understand the long term behaviours that have some sticking power.

A few of these changes are evident and obvious, including better-planned trips to grocery stores, often navigated with military precision in order to lessen community-exposure time.  Recent polling by Ipsos confirms what retail outlets are feeling; their study shows that three-quarters (75%) of Canadians are now making fewer trips to the store because of social distancing measures amid COVID 19, and over a third (34%) continue to stockpile food items and personal care products in preparation for potential future lockdowns and closures. There has also been a marked increase in online grocery shopping, and the trend is sustained and likely to endure, with an impressive 86% increase among all retail formats, as per recent Nielsen MarketTrack insights.

Beyond these immediate changes in COVID consumerism, we’re looking ahead at a few other lasting changes in Canadian consumer habits in the Food and Beverage and CPG sectors. They’re harder to spot at first glance and have social origins, and while they can be deemed “micro-shifts,” they’ll have a long and lasting impact for brands.

DIY and Beyond: Do it, Bake it, Grow it, Make it Yourself

You know it’s popular when it reaches meme-level status: homemade sourdough bread really got a chance to shine during the second quarter of 2020. All joking aside, there are some very real reasons for this phenomenon. Was it driven by panic, sheer boredom during lockdown, hunger, or deeper human primal desire and pioneering spirit in a world that seemed to temporarily forget how to function without convenient access to everyday items? It’s likely a bit of all these – and more. At any rate, it took off. In fact, the sale of yeast rose (no pun intended!) a whopping 201% in the 24 weeks ending Aug. 15, 2020, truly an unprecedented increase. People were baking like never before: Nielsen’s Moving Forward Survey (August 2020 – Canada) found that cooking increased 46%, and those  trying new recipes from their standard fare was up 43%, with baking rising overall by 30%.

And this trend goes beyond one’s “daily bread”: in a poll released in October 2020, the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid showed that 51% of respondents were growing at least one variety of fruit or vegetable in a garden, and of those 17.4% started growing food at home in 2020 during COVID-19 – almost one in five Canadians. Further, 67% of new gardeners in 2020 agree that the pandemic was what influenced their decision to start growing food at home.

This DIY “can-do” attitude is an opportunity rather than a limitation for brands. Content can be created to showcase how to incorporate food and beverage products into DIY creations, such as we did with our client Maestro. We were able to provide inspiration and how-to on assembling incredible and delicious charcuterie boards at home using Maestro brand products. Content in this campaign was brought to life using our team of amazing influencers, who showcased Maestro in their delicious, enviable boards and shared through their wide-reaching social platforms.

Working from Home, Eating at Home

Telecommuting and working from home has made a notable shift in two economies: money and time. This shift in work locations may be responsible for at least 30% of lost sales in food service for this coming year alone. Because we’re working 10 feet from the kitchen, we’ve eliminated the stops for drive-thru morning coffee and muffins or quick takeout lunches, and near-daily stops at the grocery store have ceased or slowed. Instead, busy professionals with healthy incomes can utilize convenient “at-home” prepared foods delivery services like Bio Raw, whose organic salads can be delivered for the week, right to your door.

Consumers will look for at home solutions that bring ease and a hit of joy to their day, and bring in elements of “surprise” they aren’t getting when they don’t leave their residence. Some examples of this include curated coffee delivery, snack boxes, and build-your-own meal kits that help fill the void and monotony that come from not having a lot of choice in a home office.

For brands, this looks like an opportunity to speak to shoppers about meal occasions where your brand perhaps hasn’t been a consideration in the past. Or, maybe this is a chance to examine distribution and how you’re getting your product in the hands of consumers in a creative way (hint: bring them joy!).

Home Hosting: The Great (and Social!) Outdoors

COVID 19 has had serious impacts on our social lives, especially in how we entertain and stay connected. Restrictions on gathering sizes and where we can congregate has made it difficult to plan events, and constantly evolving rules make keeping plans challenging. Millennial and Gen Z consumers are looking to create more experiences around being at home. You can look for more creative get-togethers to be a trend that gives people a reason to socialize in safe and responsible ways, especially as the holiday season approaches.  Events that don’t centre on going out to restaurants or bars will take main stage and finding ways to make those happen will showcase people’s creativity as they strive to keep community connections.

Whitby mother of two Erica* is a shining example of this. This Halloween, because of gathering restrictions due to COVID 19, she has made plans to host a small, outdoor get-together for a few families with young kids in her neighbourhood. Instead of trick or treating, the kids will have a distanced, outdoor visit without sacrificing on the typical Halloween fun. Look for this trend to ramp up in the next few months as we get holiday season underway. Christmas and New Year’s Eve provide brands a challenge in needing to re-evaluate everything from packaging to social content as you ensure you’re speaking to the small group mentality – but it’s a challenge we know you’re up to – and Bob’s Your Uncle is here to help you make it happen.

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