Interestingly, about half of all snacking occasions involve adults who are alone, and approximately 53% of these snack foods and beverages are planned and bought more than eight days before consumption. Millennials (those born from 1977 to 1995) ate alone more than they did before the pandemic.
As eat-at-home occasions surge, the U.S. consumer is shopping more efficiently, conducting fewer shopping trips for the major eating occasions because stores are considered to present higher risks of contracting COVID-19. An exception to this statistic are the Boomers (those born from 1946 through 1964), who significantly increased their stock-up trips during the pandemic. Shopping trips are conducted at least three days in advance for food and beverage consumed at home (especially dinners), for snacks and meals that had been purchased from food service before the pandemic, and for possible food shortages and other needs resulting from new sheltering orders. Generation Z (those born from 1996 through 2010), the first generation to grow up completely in the digital age, and Millennials are more likely than Gen X and Boomers to purchase their dining options on the same day of consumption. Even before the pandemic, Gen Z used delivery and takeout options more often, especially for last-minute dining decisions.
Online shopping revenue grew significantly, from 10.5% of all grocery spending in 2019 to 14.5% in February 2020 to almost double that in March and April of 2020 (27.9%). All generations, both with and without children, used online grocery shopping, according to The Food Marketing Institute. In addition to citing safety and health as the top reasons for online shopping, the U.S. consumer likes the time saved, its ease, and the fact that it includes delivery. As of August 2020, however, 39% of all generations still prefer in-store to online (26%) grocery shopping.
The U.S. consumer retained the same predominant food categories eaten before the pandemic—breads/rolls/tortillas (13%), cheese (12%), eggs (11%), dairy products other than cheese (10%), fruit/fruit snacks (9%), meat cuts (9%), and common breakfast items (7%), according to The Hartman Group. During the pandemic, more than twice as many breads/rolls/tortillas as potatoes (6%), and more than three times the amount of rice and other starches (4%), have been eaten. A November 2000 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine reported that emotional eaters, when stressed, increased their consumption of “sweet high-fat foods and a more energy-dense meal,” foods that quickly supply energy.
But there’s a concern that stress and anxiety induced by the pandemic and quarantine mandates may also lead to “the quarantine 15,” the term coined for the 15 pounds that some people may gain during isolation. Pizza/pasta/Italian food, sweets, and burgers, which were mostly outsourced to restaurants and other away-from-home locations before the pandemic, have been consumed less during the pandemic because consumers preferred not to replicate the foods at home, even when they decided not to purchase the same foods from providers outside the home.
Cooking at Home
Because of nationwide shelter-at-home orders during the pandemic, about 40% of U.S. consumers cook at home more often. Approximately 49% of this group expects to keep cooking at home after the pandemic, according to The Hartman Group. The novelty of cooking at home during the day is enjoyed as a recreational activity, especially among the younger generations, resulting in some meals not usually eaten pre-pandemic for the same eating occasions.
For example, while lunches were consumed mostly away from home before the pandemic, approximately 81% of lunches are now prepared at home for families and from “scratch,” entailing a moderate increase in time and effort using “fresh, less processed,” and “special health” foods and ingredients. Lunches during the pandemic look more like pre-pandemic dinners.