Consumer Trends in the Food Sector Post-COVID

By Julia Darvill, Managing Director Puratos UK

- How have consumer priorities changed throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period?

We have seen a variety of changes in how consumers approach food in the past few months; many of these stemming from our primal blueprint or how time is currently playing a major role in our behaviours and decision making. From the way we purchase in a timebound and hypersensitive retail environment, to our increased sensitivity to health and wellbeing, we are seeing short-term and longer-term changes. For example, we see consumers forfeiting their favourite brands based on availability or to reduce dwell time, as well as a hunter/gatherer spirit emerging with growth in home baking. There’s also a make and mend style of compromise innovation evolving and an increase in concern for gut health, vitamins and other value-added food claims.

- Have you seen any key behaviour types forming? Which behaviours do you think will be set to continue as we move onto the next phase and how will they evolve?

Short-term trends around brand promiscuity and longer shelf life items, where consumers are paying less attention to preservatives, will dissolve post – Covid-19. However, there are 3 key behaviours that pose opportunities in the long-term for the food industry:

  1. The growing desire for British, go-local and food that evokes feelings of community and kindness. Many would call this Stoic or soulful food. Consumers will want meaning in their food, or for their purchases to count towards something, for example, building up the nation.
  2. Freedom-seeking indulgence where people will want affordable and accessible treats, be that on-the-go snacking and “reward-me” formats or occasion-based luxury. Consumers will look for high quality ingredients bursting with flavour that create positive emotions such as celebration and fun.
  3. Although prevalent pre – Covid-19, the increase in awareness of health and naturalness has only been expediated by the crisis. The demand for grains as well as super fresh, fermented, natural and ethically-sourced produce is fast becoming a dominant feature in many consumer’s psyche.

- How have eating and social occasions changed during the pandemic and do you see these behaviours continuing after lockdown? (Zoom meetings, home delivery…)

With the crisis-imposed rise of at-home consumption, there have been some changes in household dynamics and a sense of intimacy, with many making more time to eat together in more set meal patterns. This may continue for a small group of consumers if food manufacturers can offer high quality casual dining solutions.

Brands that deliver meal kits have seen exponential growth during this period. However, for many, as the new normal and old habits collide, Out of Home dining will be a way to reward and consciously escape their homes. Our intelligence suggests the majority of people will adopt this selectively and make those occasions, such as weekends, extraordinary.

Socially we have also witnessed changes but the virtual birthday drinks or zoom pizza nights are a short-term trend. Once we’re allowed to socialise and gather with friends and family safely, the concept of togetherness will include shared experiences, albeit less fondue and more raclette. The humble tear and share will need some clever packaging and the QSR buckets will need to evolve but fundamentally we will want human to human.

- How can Retailers & Foodservice lock-on to these trends?

Innovate and renovate in parallel. NPD is key with occasionality and seasonality playing a major role in launching winning ranges. Consumers want new and exciting flavours that echo the seasons or compliment different day parts; from the weekend all-out statement meal to value added snacks offering gut health benefits. With total consumption challenged for the foreseeable future, the value chain has changed, consumers will want to see retailers and manufacturers taking EPD seriously to take cost out of their offering so choice in each category remains accessible.

- How is Puratos responding to these trends?

Our market regards Puratos as their “reliable partners in innovation” and more than ever customers can rely on us during this period of uncertainty; offering unparalleled quality, innovative products and support to our customers in every way we can.

We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of consumer insight with unique global and local studies that allow partners to innovate fast and meet the diverse needs of our dynamic marketplace.

Our global Taste Tomorrow consumer study conducted in 2018 outlines the 9 ‘Foodsteps of the Future’, we have reviewed these and the impact of Covid-19 to determine how our customers can evolve for the ‘New normal’.  This includes the acceleration of key areas such as health and wellbeing, which is at the very core of our global strategy and upstream innovation pipeline.

With game changing shifts in consumer needs and wants, we are offering weekly webinars on key bakery and patisserie topics to support the industry during these unprecedented times. These include focusses on cost optimisation, sourdough, indulgence and health and wellbeing solutions.

The NEW Puratos UK Covid-19 Trend Report  launched mid-June looking at the economic, social, physical and mental impact of the pandemic, how key behaviour types have been formed, what this means and how to navigate through the end of lock-down and beyond. We can’t wait to share this with our customers.