How COVID-19 Has Transformed the Grocery Shopping Experience for the Foreseeable Future


Emily Laurence, Well + Good

June 30, 2020


Without a doubt, grocery shopping has looked a lot different over the past three-and-a-half months—and it definitely still doesn’t look the same as it did B.C. (before coronavirus). Sure, the toilet paper hoarding has mostly subsided, but many people are still opting for delivery or curb-side pickup even if their cities have opened back up, and some areas are experiencing a shortage in certain foods, like meat, as the pandemic has impacted supply chains.


According to a spokesperson from grocery delivery service Instacart, the company has experienced a 500 percent increase in customers the past several months compared to this time last year. The demand was so great that the company hired 250,000 more shoppers to meet customer needs. Additionally, a spokesperson from meal kit service HelloFresh says it has seen an 88 percent increase in business compared to this time last year, another nod to people looking for alternative methods to food sourcing instead of doing their grocery shopping themselves.


Those who do venture into grocery stores may notice that the shelves (and indeed, the entire store) may look different these days, not finding some of their standard key items. Additionally, the types of foods they gravitate toward buying has changed too, according to trend analytic experts. Clearly the pandemic has changed the way we grocery shop more than we may realize.


How the pandemic has changed the way we get our groceries


Perhaps the most obvious way COVID-19 has changed the grocery shopping landscape is the preferred method in which we’re actually choosing to get our food. As the stats from Instacart and HelloFresh indicate, an increasing number of people are looking for ways to avoid actually stepping foot in a grocery store altogether.


In addition to HelloFresh’s increase in customers, other meal kit services have experienced customer increases since the beginning of the year, including Daily Harvest (a 228 percent increase), Home Chef (a 108 percent increase), and Green Chef (a 90 percent increase), according to SEMrush, a trends data provider. That reveals the dramatic increase in interest among meal kit delivery services in March (search was five times higher than it was in previous months), says Sarah Barnes, a content marketing manager at analytics platform Trendalytics. Although she says the interest in meal kit delivery is starting to dip down a bit, it’s still higher than it was before the pandemic. “At first, people were doing these meal kits out of necessity and to avoid going to the grocery store. But now, a lot of people have gotten into the habit of them, so they’re continuing to do them, even though they don’t necessarily feel like they have to anymore,” she says.


There’s also been an increase in text-to-order services. According to Zak Normandin, founder and CEO of Iris Nova (which includes the beverage brands Dirty Lemon, Halo Sport, and Minna, among others), all their beverage brands had a text-to-order ability before the pandemic, but use of that tech surged over the past few months. Dirty Lemon saw a 27 percent increase in use of their text-to-order services since the beginning of the year, and Halo saw a whopping 578 percent increase. “As a company overall, we’re up 120 percent [since January] and I think that speaks to the change in consumer behavior,” Normandin says. “Because of the pandemic, what we’re seeing is entire generations of people ordering food and beverage products online for the first time ever, which at first was because of necessity.”


Normandin says he believes the pandemic has forced brands to adapt to meet consumer needs in new ways, propelling the industry several years into the future. And he expects the habits of buying items online, or as the case often is with his brands, texting, to last long after the pandemic ends. “Experts say it takes two weeks to form a habit and now we’re a few months into this behavior change, so I definitely think people’s [grocery shopping] habits are changing for good,” he says. “People are realizing the convenience of it, it will be really difficult to go back to the way they were shopping before.”


Combined, all this intel shows that even as people start feeling more comfortable being in public areas, including the supermarket, the behavior changes of shopping online, texting to order, and cooking with meal kits is here to stay in a bigger way.


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