Hugh: Grocery Shopping Trends That Have Changed Under the Pandemic

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For the first time in a generation, Americans are spending more money at the supermarket than at restaurants and other places where someone else prepares food for them–due in large part to Coronavirus closures and the attendant restrictions. So how has this changed how people shop for groceries? The New York Times has noticed seven trends:

  1. Trips are fewer, lists are better. The need to avoid infection has taught people how to get by on fewer trips to the store, and to make good shopping lists. “People now go to the store with purpose,” said market analyst John Owen. “The number of trips went way down, and the size of the basket went way up in April. We have eased back on that, but not by much.”
  2. Online aisles are bustling. A year ago, 81 percent of shoppers surveyed by Gallup said they never turned to the internet for groceries. Online shopping was lolling at around 3 percent of all grocery sales, or about $1.2 billion, according to a survey by Brick Meets Click/Mercatus. But in June, online grocery sales in the United States hit $7.2 billion.
  3. Orange is the new snack. In May, grocers sold 73 percent more oranges than during the same month in 2019. Even into July, sales remained 52 percent higher than a year before. “Oranges were a surprise, but they are popular from an immunity standpoint,” says one analyst.
  4. Redrawing the store. Pandemic shopping has ushered in wider aisles, new methods of sanitation and less-crowded stores. And shoppers want these changes to stay.
  5. Choices are shrinking. After decades in which North American supermarkets expanded to offer a dizzying selection of products and brands, they are pulling back on variety. Shoppers, intent on getting in and out quickly, are sticking to items they already know.
  6. The freezer is hot. Frozen food is another surprise breakout. Sales initially jumped by 94 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. That initial rush abated, but even in August, sales remained up almost 18 percent. “Frozen had a lot of momentum coming into the pandemic,” said Mr. Owen from Mintel. “A lot of the growth is coming from small brands that have healthier, clean labels or vegetarian lines. People are discovering that product quality and taste has improved.”
  7. “Local” is the biggest lure. The fragility of the supply chain, concerns over health and safety and an appreciation of community have buoyed the movement toward food that is raised or produced locally.

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