Food in the Time of Coronavirus: How the Pandemic Has Affected Our Eating Habits

Some years go down in history for politics, war, crazy weather, or even a major change in the economy. And there’s no question that 2020 will be going down in history as well: the year we all stayed home. 

The pandemic has completely changed the way we decide what to eat, where we get our food and how we prepare it. According to an annual survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, 85% of consumers say the coronavirus pandemic has changed their food habits, driving them to cook, eat, shop, and think about food differently. 

Last spring, panic buying was *definitely* a trend, as anyone who saw a grocery freezer section entirely empty can attest. As a result, there was a major shortage of paper goods (you all know which paper we’re referring to!) and foods like eggs, flour, and canned goods were harder than a PlayStation 5 to get your hands on.  All the while, food producers were dumping gallons of surplus milk. Seems sort of backward, right?

While staying home, we've passed the time learning new culinary skills (hello, sourdough and pancake cereal) as we learned to make the most of our own kitchens. Not suprisingly, Google Search Trends data shows that consumers are showing more interest in online grocery shopping, food delivery, local food sourcing and preserved foods. Here are five ways that the pandemic has changed eating, and the consumer shopping experience:

Fewer Trips to the Grocery Store

With recommendations from public health agencies across the globe, many have limited trips to the grocery store. According to a study by McKinsey & Co, before the pandemic 19% of Americans shopped for food more than 3x a week. By June, that number had dropped to 10%. 

Nutrition as a Tool for Health & Wellbeing

For many people, health and wellbeing is a top-of-mind concern. Many have turned to food to build their health throughout the pandemic. Many public and private organizations have provided guides to healthy eating, all tying back to messages of health back to our body’s ability to fight infection. 

The World Health Organization started a campaign titled #HealthyAtHome, promoting people to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink water, while cutting back on salt, sugar, unhealthy fats and alcohol. UNICEF provided a list of easy, affordable healthy eating tips for during the pandemic. 

As people look to protect themselves from COVID-19, they may also look towards immune-boosting foods. Mintel’s latest findings indicate that consumers are looking to plants and foods that improve overall health. Consuming “five-a-day” is a high priority, according to the market insight company, with a quarter of Britains saying they’re eating more fruits and vegetables than before the pandemic. (We're calling this a win. Take that, 2020.)

Groceries Delivered

Fear of infection in public, particularly grocery stores, promoted a major increase in online grocery ordering systems. From click and collect to grocery delivery, the whole online grocery shopping scene has been buzzing since the beginning of the pandemic stay-at-home orders. According to data from a survey conducted by Brick Meets Click/Mercatus, U.S. online grocery sales hit $7.2 billion in June, up from $1.3 billion in early April. 

More Home Cooking

With the closure of restaurants and the fear of infection via takeout, many have retreated to home kitchens. According to a survey by PwC, 51% of U.S. consumers reported a significant increase in cooking at home, and 69% of those said that this activity has added to their quality of life during the pandemic. Yes to this! 

Preserved Foods

During the initial wave of panic buying (now there's a phrase we never thought we'd need to write), many people were focused on building up their pandemic pantry. This was such a popular phenomenon that the food industry labelled this consumer behaviour as “pantry-loading.” Shelf-stable foods such as canned vegetables, soups, and pastas were amongst the most sought-after products.  Foods with a long shelf life, like frozen foods, have also seen an increase.  Sales in frozen foods jumped by 94% in March from the previous year, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. That's a lot of frozen pizza. 

Freeze drying is an ancient preservation process (started by the Incas!) that extends the shelf-life of foods, and is considered to be one of the fastest growing trends in food. In 2016, it was projected that the global freeze-dried market would increase to $66.5 billion by 2021, but chances are the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated that trajectory. Like freezing, freeze drying helps to preserve essential vitamins and nutrients in foods, without the use of chemicals or preservatives. Freeze drying removes 98% of the water from food, allowing it to retain its natural cellular structure (read: fiber, taste, and mouth feel). Once rehydrated, freeze dried food is similar in nutritional value to fresh food, making it one of the best ways to preserve food. 

A key advantage of freeze drying is that the food can be preserved at the peak of ripeness (and nutrient content!) unlike fresh food, which often reaches peak ripeness in transit. Also, when compared to other drying methods, freeze-drying has the best rehydration abilities. Not to mention, it frees up major real estate in your freezer. (Yup. Our Everipe Smoothies 5-pack goes right into your pantry.) 

2020 has been a year of big changes, on a global scale and right into our kitchens - we've been honored to help people feel good about what is in the pantry. Wishing you and your loved ones a restful and safe holiday. 

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