Consumables lead pantry must-haves one year into pandemic

Will Kreznick

At the one-year mark into the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have upped their spending in certain food and beverage categories and deem some consumer packaged goods (CPG) as must-haves for their pantry, new research from NCSolutions shows. CPG expenditures rose an average of 14% from March 2020 through February 2021 compared […]

At the one-year mark into the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have upped their spending in certain food and beverage categories and deem some consumer packaged goods (CPG) as must-haves for their pantry, new research from NCSolutions shows.

CPG expenditures rose an average of 14% from March 2020 through February 2021 compared with the prior-year period, advertising efficacy specialist NCSolutions said Monday, citing its latest consumer purchase data.

Food and beverage segments that saw the largest dollar sales increases during the period were led by staple items such as frozen foods (+29%), dry grains and beans (+28%), baking ingredients (+27%) and fresh produce (+24%). Also seeing sizable gains were alcohol (+23%), breakfast foods (+21%), soft drinks (+18%), coffee (+14%), snacks (+13%) and sweets (+12%).

Driving those spending hikes, in part, was a higher propensity to cook at home, as most of the country grappled with stay-at-home orders to minimize the spread of the virus. Forty-seven percent of respondents to the NCSolutions March 2021 Consumer Sentiment Survey said they cook at home more frequently than before the pandemic, while 41% indicated they cook as often and 7% do so less frequently. 

In addition, with people stuck indoors, 91% reported they snack while engagement in entertainment activities, including 42% who “always” or “almost always” do so.

New York-based NCSolutions analyzed 12 months of its purchase data and surveyed 2,017 U.S. adults to identify changes in the grocery shopping basket and consumer habits during the COVID-19 crisis, including potentially lasting new behaviors.

The findings reveal a predilection for food and household items that Americans now feel they must always stock in their home. Top items they plan to keep on supply in their pantry include cleaning supplies (cited by 81%); bathroom tissue and paper goods (80%); shelf-stable foods like rice, pasta, beans and soup (72%); basic health care items like analgesics, cold/flu/allergy remedies and a thermometer (63%); proteins like chicken, fish, steak, tofu, pork and eggs (63%); and fresh fruit and vegetables (63%).

NCSolutions COVID One Year Study-pantry.jpg

Other CPGs now considered mainstays for the post-pandemic pantry are snack foods such as chips, nuts and pretzels (58%); convenience/frozen foods (57%), baking ingredients such as flour and sugar (55%); vitamins and supplements (54%); soft drinks (44%); sweets and confections such as cookies, ice cream, chocolate cake and baked goods (39%); beer and wine (22%); liquor (14%); and seltzer (7%).

“The big question on everyone’s minds is: Which of these newly formed behaviors will stick? Looking back at history, we see numerous examples of behaviors changing post-crisis. After the excesses of the Roaring Twenties and the poverty of the Depression, for instance, many people became extremely cautious about money. Some went as far as to save money in their mattresses — behavior that lasted for decades,” according to Linda Dupree, CEO of NCSolutions. “We expect Americans to sustain their higher interest in CPG products and activities that foster self-care and well-being — both physical and emotional — for some time.”

Indeed, consumers reported putting a high priority on maintaining their physical health. Of those polled, 47% said they focus on eating healthy foods to take care of themselves during the pandemic, 38% exercise regularly, and 55% take vitamins and supplements.

Meanwhile, dinner and a movie “out” has shifted to dinner and a show “in,” NCSolutions noted. Forty-two percent of consumers said they enjoy more meals and beverages at home, signaling a convergence of home cooking and entertainment. Respondents also indicated that better self-care has entailed ways to lift their spirits, with 42% visiting the grocery store to get out of the house and “feel normal,” and 22% splurging on special treats.

NCSolutions COVID One Year Study-health & wellness.jpg

A sharper focus on cleaning, too, is driving more health and wellness awareness, the study showed. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed said they spend the same (55%) or more time (41%) cleaning now than pre-pandemic, while 89% spent the same (54%) or more (35%) on products for cleaning and disinfecting their homes since the pandemic started. Nearly a third of consumers (32%) report that they don’t expect to return to their pre-pandemic rates of cleaning. 

According to NCSolutions consumer purchase data, spending on cleaning products climbed 36% year over year from March 2020 through February 2021, more than in any other grocery category.

Sizing up the post-pandemic period, 56% of Americans don’t expect the crisis to subside until 2022 or later, whereas 80% express optimism about the post-pandemic environment with the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. In terms post-pandemic behavior, 41% of consumers say they plan to drive to destinations away from home, 38% plan to have outdoor social gatherings and 34% plan to eat out more at restaurants. Just 30% said they plan to visit public venues.

“Pandemic pantries, home-centric entertainment, cleaning mania, fixation on health and wellness, and an increase in spending on groceries, this is the American sensibility today,” commented Lance Brothers, chief revenue officer at NCSolutions. “These consumer spending and sentiment insights are indicators for CPG advertisers about the market’s evolution. As spring and summer approach, Americans view the pandemic with a light at the end of the tunnel. They will continue to adapt to the next market phase, making it an ideal time for CPG brands to increase their presence in-market to elevate their market share.”

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