Eating our way through lockdown: What are consumers consuming?

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resultant lockdown and social distancing rules, have caused massive change to the economy, consumer mindsets and our very way of life. So how has it affected what we're putting in our mouths?

Meat - or not?

Coming hot on the heels of Veganuary 2020, lockdown living appears to have amplified the trend towards vegan diets. A Vegan Society survey found that 1 in 5 UK consumers have cut down on meat consumption during the pandemic, while nearly 1 in 6 have cut back on dairy and eggs. The two most common reasons for this change were stock availability and concern for health, the environment or animal rights.

This behavioural change could well continue after lockdown, with consumers sampling - and often enjoying - alternatives to meat and dairy. For instance, plant-based meat startup THIS has seen supermarket sales double since the Coronavirus outbreak started to develop in the UK.

Opportunity: Manufacturers and stockists of meat and dairy alternatives mustn't slacken their efforts, even during lockdown. Consumers are ready to try something new.

Alcohol: Change at both ends

Research commissioned by Alcohol Change UK in April 2020 has revealed that during lockdown, Britons are drinking both more and less. Of the drinkers surveyed, more than 1 in 3 have either cut back or stopped drinking entirely since lockdown. On the flipside, around 1 in 5 drinkers say they have been drinking more frequently, while 1 in 6 have increased the amount they drink per session.

For those who are quaffing in greater quantities, the worry is that habits formed under lockdown will be hard to break once it is lifted. And let's not forget (as if we ever could!) that during lockdown, people are mostly stuck indoors with members of their household. No surprises, then, that 7% of survey respondents felt that alcohol had made the tension in their household worse since lockdown.

Opportunity: As lockdown eases, consumers who drank more during lockdown could have renewed interest in 'low & no' alcohol options.

Watching our waste

A new survey from WRAP UK has found that, contrary to the widely feared increase in waste as a result of food stockpiling, UK consumers are actually managing their food better in lockdown, leading to a reported 34% reduction in waste of potatoes, bread, chicken and milk. In fact, consumers have adopted, on average, 5.9 additional food management behaviours over the past month. These behaviours include checking the cupboards, fridge or freezer before shopping, cooking creatively to use up random ingredients, managing cupboard and fridge contents, and saving leftovers to use another day.

Opportunity: Consumers are thinking creatively when it comes to home cooking, branching out from the typical half-dozen meals on rotation. It's the perfect time to get new flavours into their baskets, encouraging experimentation and fusion cooking.

Daily bread

With more time on our hands, and less opportunity to shop, we've turned to home baking. According to data from Kantar, grocery sales of flour were up 92% in the four weeks to 22 March compared to the previous year. Kantar also found that 40% of consumers report doing more home baking since lockdown. Google Trends reveals a surge in searches for bread and cake recipes. In particular, sourdough recipe searches are at an all-time high for the last 12 months - ahead of any other bread recipe.

Opportunity: Things won't snap back to normal any time soon. Lockdown will ease slowly, and changes to consumer behaviours could be long-lasting. You've already won these new customers - now get ready to keep them.

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