4 ways at-home dining has shifted during COVID-19
Now that people have worked their way through the packaged foods they had stockpiled at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, some themes are emerging in the industry that may be here to stay.
Early on during the crisis, many shoppers loaded their physical and virtual shopping carts up with foods evoking nostalgia and comfort. For Jen Bentz, the chief client officer at market intelligence agency Mintel, that included items such as ramen noodles, she says on the latest episode of the “Marketer’s Brief” podcast. As the pandemic persisted, she found herself cooking more and trying out new recipes.
Bentz says four main themes have emerged in at-home dining.
One is food as “the new passport,” providing some adventure for people who haven’t been able to travel. “Food is taking on a much larger role in terms of experience for people” during the pandemic, Bentz says, as people are not traveling as much. Data show consumer interest for flavors such as chimichurri and peri peri continues to grow, she says.
Second, the morning rush has come to a bit of a halt. “We’re seeing a shift from 'go' to 'gather' as you think about breakfast,” says Bentz, who joined Mintel in April after working in consumer insights in the food industry, most recently at Tyson Foods Inc.
And brands that aren’t usually considered breakfast brands are spending on digital ads to capture the at-home breakfast audience. Bentz says a few brands have done so, including Johnsonville, which she says is better-known for dinner sausage. Now, it is “talking to consumers about overnight breakfast casseroles,” says Bentz.
Third, when it comes to snacking, “portability is becoming less important,” but having ready-to-eat packaging is still convenient for people who are gathering but don’t want to share their foods. What used to be a snack pack for a kid’s lunchbox might now become the snack someone brings to an outdoor gathering with spaced-apart seating.
And lastly, there is a theme of renewed interest in healthy meals in the push to avoid illness, she says.
Brands are preparing to meet these new themes and have been trying to get their production lines ready for the rest of the year. “We don’t expect any major supply issues with key food categories as we move into the fall,” says Bentz.
Still, food marketers need to place their bets on whether people will host gatherings this year, and how much they’re able to buy.
“The economy is also going to play a role here and the amount that people will spend may be different this year as they think about celebrations and gifts and things like that,” says Bentz.
Hear more from Bentz at the link above. And hear more about what's trending in the industry by attending Ad Age Next: Food & Beverage, a virtual event on Sept 22. Register here.