A self-driving food delivery robot might appear in a post-pandemic world in which consumers want to avoid human contact.
These are unprecedented times. One thing is for sure— with the widespread acceptance that coronavirus originated in an exotic meat market in China, there has been a massive consumer rethink around food.
This shift is impacting the type of food that is consumed, where it is obtained, how and where it is prepared and how it is produced and stored.
The overarching theme? Fear of contagion and oftentimes human contact.
Here are some predictions of how coronavirus will change the way we eat, based on recent surveys and forecasting.
Home cooking will make a resurgence
Yelp’s Coronavirus Impact Report reveals that consumers want food with minimal human touch points. A recent survey by Technomic confirms that 32 per cent of adults plan to eat at restaurants less often due to COVID-19 concerns. With many restaurants closed and supermarket shelves bare, and with heightened concerns around food safety, home cooking is making a comeback. This trend is likely to continue for some time, post pandemic, due to hesitation around public gathering as revealed in the results of a survey conducted by Variety in which 47 per cent of respondents agreed that the idea of going to a major public event “will scare me for a long time.” This transition to home cooking could also result in an increase in sales of cooking staples, meal kits and accompaniments to meals.
Healthy and Organic Eating will become increasingly important
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” There is likely to be an increase in demand for organic food, vegan, vegetarian and other healthy foods as a result of the pandemic. Coronavirus poses a significant risk to those with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease as well as those who are overweight and obese. The value of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables in the management of these conditions is well documented. The March performance of organic food companies such as Nourish Organics, which experienced an increase in sales of approximately 30 per cent and the surge in demand for organic vegetable box delivery in the United Kingdom are evidence of this trend.
Food Safety will come under a tighter lens
There is currently no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted via food, yet this has not been reflected in consumers’ dining and shopping decisions. According to a recent survey by The Packer, grocery shoppers have changed their shopping habits due to fears of catching coronavirus from food. Survey respondents indicated that they are buying less fresh produce in grocery stores and more canned foods due to fears around food safety. Studies have also shown that consumers want food that is pre-packaged. Even among those who understand that they cannot catch coronavirus from food, there is an elevated fear around food safety that has even extended to home kitchens.
There will be reduced demand for exotic, risqué foods
The Wuhan seafood market, where coronavirus is thought to have originated was a popular centre for wildlife such as snakes, porcupines, deer and racoon dogs, many of which were slaughtered in front of customers, according to reports.
Since the onset of the coronavirus in 2019, 20,000 wildlife farms in China have been shut down or quarantined and a strict ban is being implemented on the farming and consumption of exotic animals.
Although there is some disagreement around which animal transferred the virus to humans, it is an accepted fact that outbreaks are more likely when exotic animals from different environments, with viruses that are specific to those environments, are kept in close proximity.
This will most certainly translate in decreased demand for exotic animals.
There will be greater focus on eating local
Yelp’s Coronavirus Impact Report reveals that consumers are more likely to want to know the source of their food, making them increasingly desirous of food from community-supported agriculture (increase in demand of 430 per cent) and farms (increase in demand of 149 per cent). A heightened awareness around food safety and a desire for more nutritious food will also increase demand for eating local. On the supply side, the interruption of global supply chains and closure of borders due to COVID-19 will impact foreign food production and reduce imports.
Other trends? Until the mayhem dies down, there might continue to be some hoarding and stockpiling of items such as fruit snacks, energy drinks, dried beans, pretzels and frozen fruit.
Consumers will also want to limit their exposure to crowds for quite some time, which will increase the demand for online purchasing of food, curb side pick up, take out and delivery. According to Yelp, the demand for delivery has increased 135 times with coronavirus, but this will be tempered by food safety concerns and the relaxation of shelter in place orders.
With all these changes, it appears at least for the time being, that the biggest losers in the food business will be restaurants, food stands and vendors, unless they are able to pivot and offer meals with minimal human touch points.
Business owners will have to make a conscious effort to meet the needs of the new pandemic mindset.