What consumers want: Has Covid changed consumer habits for good?
With COVID-19 turning the food industry upside down overnight, EIT Food’s latest report suggests some changes may be here to stay.
A survey of 5,000 consumers in 10 European countries shows lockdown measures may have caused lasting behavioural changes in relation to food consumption.
EIT Food’s report highlights substantial shifts in shopping patterns, meal preparation and eating habits, and surveys habits across Spain, Sweden, Germany, the UK, Poland, Italy, France, Greece, Finland and Romania.
The report comes just months after the European Commission published its Farm to Fork strategy, calling for the creation of a food environment that makes it easier for consumers to choose healthy and sustainable diets, while having access to sufficient and affordable food. As Europe recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, EIT Food says there is a unique opportunity for industry to engage with consumers and build on rising health and sustainability trends.
“Our research shows that COVID-19 has changed the way people think about, purchase, plan and consume their food,” noted Professor Klaus Grunert, Head of Section of the Department of Management at Aarhus University. “The silver lining during this pandemic has been the rise of various positive trends, particularly around sustainability and health. The industry has a real opportunity to innovate to meet consumer needs, for instance through new experiences for consumers to enjoy food at home or tailoring their online experience to new ways of shopping.”
Changes in consumer food behaviours across Europe
Consumers across Europe suffered financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. A third of respondents (34 percent) lost part or all of their income and more than half (55 percent) said they found it difficult to make ends meet every month.
Despite this, European consumers reported buying more in almost every food category, as COVID-19 lockdowns and a rise in homeworking across Europe led to people spending more time at home and eating out less.
European consumers are also spending more time in the kitchen, with more than a third (36 percent) reporting that they have enjoyed spending time cooking during lockdown. Sharing this experience with others became more important too, with three in 10 (29 percent) sitting down to eat together as a household more regularly.The largest ‘shift’, according to the report, was the way we shop, with nearly half of consumers reporting an increase in online shopping (45 percent), bulk purchases (47 percent), and carefully planned shopping trips (45 percent ).
Lasting habits post pandemic
According to the survey, the increased significance that food has played in our lives will continue after lockdown measures are lifted. Nearly a third of consumers said it will be more important to have time to cook home-made meals (27 percent) and to continue eating more varied foods (30 percent) after the pandemic.
While affordability will remain a priority for many, with 32 percent saying that access to food at low prices will be more important, it should not come at the cost of health and good nutrition. On the contrary, almost half of consumers (49 percent) said being in good health will be more important to them as a result of COVID-19.
In addition to prioritising their own health, European consumers reported a number of changes that could have a positive impact on the health of the planet. For example, over a third (35 percent) said that buying locally produced food has become more important to them during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it seems the trend for shopping locally is set to continue, with almost nine in 10 (87 percent) reporting that they were very likely to continue doing so in the future.
Saskia Nuijten, Director of Communication and Public Engagement at EIT Food, stressed the need for the industry to change even after the pandemic has gone. “The fragility of our food system was brought into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “European consumers changed how they shopped and consumed food almost overnight, and there are no signs of going back to ‘business as usual’ after lockdown measures lift.
“This study shows consumers are hopeful for better access to affordable food that will benefit both the planet and their health. It is one of the opportunities the industry can act on as we reflect on how to build a better food system from farm to fork.
“The solutions will rely on collaborative, cross-sector partnerships, and we look forward to continuing to work with partners to accelerate the transition to a food system that’s fit for the future.”
The research was carried out by a consortium of leading universities in Europe, led by Aarhus University, Denmark.