We humans are creatures of habit and our nation is characterised by being somewhat set in our ways, but in the last month, following the coronavirus outbreak, there is evidence of considerable behavioural changes – providing valuable insights for brands.

Apparently only 10% of consumers claim that they will return to ‘normality’ when the lockdown eases, with over a quarter believing the pandemic will have a permanent impact of the way they shop¹.  From food types and brand selection to channel choices, there are surprises to be found in the patterns and predictions. These are our top ten pointers to be prepared for.

1) Flour, is the new loo roll in terms of shopper craving, as a shortage in bagging capacity is leaving shelves empty. But in fact all the basics of cooking at home are in unprecedented demand, with reportedly half of us spending more time cooking from scratch and 60% of Brits trying new cooking techniques². What an opportunity for food brands to inspire.

2) Shoppers are trading both down and up! In the final week of March, 44% of shoppers were unable to get the brand they wanted, forcing them to purchase own label options³ The steady growth that OL has been enjoying for years, is being boosted by the pandemic, [rising 20% in March according to Kantar], which is attributable to usual brand unavailability, price sensitivity and to consumers being surprised by the value OL has to offer.

Conversely usual brand unavailability has resulted in other shoppers trading up, with top-tier meat, chilled and ready meals selling well – an indication that people are prepared to create a more luxury meal at home, unable to go out. Demand for more indulgent treat products, such as premium ice-cream and wines is on the up too, as is the rising demand for subscription boxes, such as Gousto and Hello Fresh, further demonstrating that shoppers are also buying better.

3) Aside from the positive news of the nation’s effort to get/keep fit and 2% of smokers giving up, a plethora of stories are emerging of a food-related health drive. Last week Convenience Store reported that demand for loose fresh fruit and veg has risen 57% YOY in the sector, significant growth in sales of loaves of bread that carry gut health claims are expected and interest in CBD products is soaring with an anticipated 50% increase in sales YOY. This is about helping to manage issues such as anxiety, or pain as well as building immunity, so wellbeing is high on consumers agendas, fuelled by pandemic situation. In an IGD survey last month, 2/3rds of respondents said they were either changing their diets or considering changes to be healthier.

4) Waste not, want not is the new cry, as consumers are becoming aware of how much food they are wasting [9 out of 10 of us apparently]. A combination of better meal planning and fridge management, higher levels of freezing and more creative use of leftovers is cutting levels of waste across staple food items such as potatoes, bread and milk by 1/3rd⁴ 48% of us are throwing away less according to environmental charity Hubbub.

5) Another topic of concern that is set to change shopper behaviour is the safety of global food supply chains. The reassurance of ‘local’ in relation to food is predicted by Mintel to be a ‘powerful tool’ of persuasion in the decision to purchase.

6) Keeping it local has become more of a priority for the choice of shopping destination too, as people use their local stores rather than rely on big supermarkets. This is the case even for home deliveries, so much so that 65% of c-stores now offering the service, [up from just 10% last year] and 600,000 grocery orders being received each week according to a report from the Association of Convenience Stores. As many as 41% of Britons have been shopping locally more frequently, presumably driven by wanting to support small businesses and/or wanting to avoid the difficulties of ordering via the big retailers suggests Neilsen.

7) It is less surprising to gather from Neilsen, that 600,000 households tried shopping online for the first time in the first weeks of lockdown and that Sainsbury’s expects ‘a more permanent demand’ for home delivery. But interestingly the digital way of shopping is now equally popular, with almost 1/3rd of its sales now through SmartShop, which allows shoppers to use instore handsets or their own smartphone.

8) What is certain is that we are going to see the usual recessionary trends influencing behaviour, such as less out-of-home consumption, particularly as consumers work through food supplies that they stock-piled at the start of lockdown. Another aspect is the likely increase, particularly with many having spare time, in on-line browsing without conversion to purchase. In mid-March watch brand Marloe Watch Company experienced a 353% increase (YOY) in browsing its online store pages, a hike that was not reflected in sales.

9) With economic uncertainty also comes the desire for simplicity. Mintel predicts that this will become more important than ever in 2020, given the added anxiety of the pandemic. It reported last month that people are likely to pine for products/brands from their youth or pre-pandemic times – that are safe, familiar and offer certainty. According to Hovis, consumers are replacing their pre-lockdown out-of-home lunch purchases with old favourites such as beans on toast. When it ends however, will we fall back into the old habits of takeaways and ready meals?

10) Finally, a pattern that we all hope will not pervade, is an apparent slip in standards of personal hygiene. Unilever says that sales of products such as shampoo have fallen significantly and deodrant purchases in the last few weeks are going to be lower than usual too. We clearly do need to get out more!

The British weather of course we’ll never be able to predict, but over and above all of these insights is the grounding sureness that as the pandemic recedes, shopper caution will be slow to shake off. If you would like help with exploring how to change your brand plans in line with changing shopper behaviours, give us a call.

hello@grandc.co.uk / 020 8546 0150


 ¹Retail Economics report w/c 04.05.20.  ²Too Good To Go Show surveys.  ³Behavioural survey by Shopper Intelligence.  ⁴Food Waste survey by Wrap, April ’20.