ALEXANDRIA, Va.—COVID-19 and the recession are driving changes in shopper behavior that could benefit grocers long term, according to a survey by PwC.
As reported by GroceryDive.com, 42% of 1,600 consumers surveyed said they won’t stop loading their pantries until COVID-19 is fully resolved, and 64% plan to maintain their current rate of pantry loading for the foreseeable future.
Of those surveyed, 51% reported a “significant increase” in cooking at home, and 69% said that practice has added to their quality of life during the pandemic. In addition, 65% reported eating out less.
Customers are becoming more flexible in their product choices. The survey found they are interested in experimenting with new brands when grocery stores are out of stock of their preferred brands. In fact, when it comes to beverages and fresh prepared meals, shoppers say they’re willing to try new brands even when their preferred products are available.
The survey results suggest the COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting effect on the grocery industry. Most respondents said that they’re still worried about their safety, and until COVID-19 is fully resolved, they plan to continue to fill their pantries with grocery items.
Some consumers are stockpiling in response to product shortages. The survey found that 24% of respondents will continue to fill their pantry until grocery stores are consistently restocked. Pantry loading has helped boost center-store sales, breathing life into formerly sagging categories, like canned soup and dry cereal. But retailers also are seeing high sales in the key components of at-home meals, including fresh produce, proteins and baking supplies.
As restaurants reopen, grocers wonder if sales of pantry items and fresh meal components will continue. Judging by the survey, this trend will endure for at least the length of the pandemic. Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed report they now enjoy cooking at home at least occasionally, and 66% hesitate to visit restaurants due to safety concerns.
Expect consumers to become more price sensitive during the recession and seek private label offerings. According to product data firm IRI, store-brand sales will increase between $10 billion and $12 billion this year, up from a $2.5 billion increase a year ago, to $93 billion to $95 billion.
The PwC survey shows consumers are taking more safety precautions as the virus spreads. Seventy-eight percent said they're wearing a face mask outdoors at least in some circumstances, up from 21% in March, and 80% say they're observing six-foot distancing around people outside their homes, compared to 70% who reported they were taking that precaution in March.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.