We have kept you updated with all things COVID-19 over the past few months. We have seen the country feel anxious over the virus, to finding a sense of normality through it all. Now that we have a good grasp of consumer behavior and shopping patters, we wanted to dive into some other issues, such as the controversial topic of face masks. We also touched on sentiments towards the handling of the pandemic by state officials and the president. Look through our infographic below to see what we have uncovered!
Pulse check on July 13: frustrated.
Life as we know it.
Life as we know it.
We have gotten used to our life with COVID-19 and perhaps that is why our level of concern continues to drop. However, that doesn’t mean consumers are letting their guards down easily.
As we tread into our 11th pulse check, we are finding that consumers are feeling about living with the pandemic, but they also don’t see it ending any time soon. Shopping is no longer as scary as it used to be, but many rely on protection such as face masks and hand sanitizer when venturing out. Data also suggests that despite being more open to lifting the restrictions, respondents continue to be unpleased with our nation’s response to the crisis.
It’s clear that we are no longer stunned by the virus. We have digested the reality and are learning how to function within the given constraints. Some industries have adapted well to these consumers’ sentiments and concerns, such as grocery stores. On the other hand, this ‘new normal’ is going to be harder to adjust to for sit-down restaurants. Fewer than 1 in 5 of our respondents reported they have eaten at a sit-down restaurant, and a large majority of consumers still do not feel comfortable with the idea of eating out.
With the help of Mary Cooper from IRI Growth Consulting, we examine where the U.S. consumer mind is at amidst the current climate and we ponder the future of food and food service industries.
Pulse check on June 6: Settling in, but highly aware.
Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: Pulse check number 11! And people are feeling better than two weeks ago, which was better than two weeks before that. So, are we officially over the hump and summer vacation can now begin?
Mary Cooper, IRI:Hey, summertime sounds great to me and sounds great to everyone else I’m sure! People want to move forward and resume some more normal activities. The summer weather and being able to get outside should help spirits.
RI:The data is showing that people are less worried. Perhaps they are just desensitized to the threat and perhaps they are truly less worried. But considering this data and the following chart about employment that keeps decreasing as well, it seems like people are feeling a little bit better. Maybe this is the good news we’ve been waiting for.
MC:This news does look like some positive momentum with consumer sentiment.
RI: For this report, we added one new chart. We have been quietly collecting data asking about whether people know anyone who’s had COVID-19. We broke down the concern data by those who do know someone with COVID-19. You can see that the worry over the virus is significantly higher for those respondents. By the way, in this last pulse check, about 30% knew somebody who had had COVID-19.
RI: Speaking of trends, the behavior about food purchases data aligns with thepeak of concern we saw about a month ago. That’s where people were more willing to do online grocery shopping. Since then we’ve seen a decline. People seem to be venturing into getting their groceries in-person more freely than before.
MC: That is true. It looks like the biggest spike was around May 10th and now people are seemingly adjusting their behaviors. I am curious to see how this evolves now that restaurants are opening–up.
RI: Myhypothesis would be that this trend will continue for a little while, and if there is a second wave, it would be interesting to see if that fear picks up and it again starts leading to moreonline purchases and eating at home.
MC: There’s two points I am thinking about here. When we started the purchasing online, we were at around 39%. Now we are at 49% and I don’t know if we’ll ever go below that original 39%. My prediction is that more people are going to grow accustomed to this and the nuances of it, and the supply chain is going to manage it better. So, in general, we’ve probably propped up online grocery shopping a little bit faster or at least more so than if we never had COVID. Another thing is that we saw a little bit of a down-turn on the takeout and delivery, but that could be because more people are now actually going into restaurants.
RI: That makes a lot of sense.Now talking about people eating out at restaurants, not too many ventured out. Only 17% said they did go out and eat at a sit-down restaurant. And those who did, a vast majority said that they felt at least somewhat comfortable doing so. The interesting thing to me was when we asked them ‘compared to pre-COVID, are you going to go more or less frequently?’ Looking at top and bottom two boxes, we see data skewing toward eating out less. That is concerning if you own a sit-down restaurant, in addition to the extra cost you’re now incurring because of all the precautions you have to take.
MC: Not only do they incur the cost of the extra precautions, but they also have staffing issues. A lot of these restaurants are staffing outside which can be unpredictable. Plus, restaurants seat fewer people and are investing in outdoor set-ups.
RI: We also asked people who didn’t go out to a restaurant what it would take for them to go eat at a sit-down restaurant. As you can see, they want to feel that social distance is in place, staff are wearing masks, deep cleaning, etc. On the one hand, restaurants are saying that it’s what they are doing, yet on the other hand, many consumers are still not wanting to eat out. I imagine that it could be due to lack of trust, which takes time to build. Consumers were able to see the protocols being implemented in a grocery store, and they became comfortable shopping there. But they can’t see what is going on inside a restaurant, they can’t see what is going on inside the kitchen… at least not yet. This may be a fundamental difference between retail and food service that food service will need to address.
What would it take for you to eat at a sit-down restaurant in the next several weeks?
MC: I’ve also heard people having their temperature taken before going inisde of restaurants. I wonder does that makes them feel better or does it bring a heightened awareness?
RI: Well,let’s talk about the people who actually did eat at restaurants. For those who said they felt comfortable, we asked them what it was that made them comfortable. Besides those very few people who just aren’t worried about the virus in general, most are saying that they have seen protocols in place, whether it be spacing between tables, servers wearing masks or sanitizing.
MC: I think that’s the cost of doing business for restaurants. They need to provide the space andmake peoplefeel comfortable. It’s another level of work effort for them. Another oddity is that the restaurant staff wear the masks and the patrons don’t when they are eating and drinking. While this is necessity for patrons, it seems like a bit of a double standard.
What specifically made you comfortable?
RI: This is a good segue to the question, Mary, you wanted to ask last time we spoke. You wanted to know if people are still concerned about going shopping. This could be a preview for what may happen with sit-down restaurants as they begin to reopen. They are 2-3 months behind grocery stores, which had to adopt precautions quickly to stay open as essential service. You see on the left that it still shows some concern, but less than what we probably would have gotten a few months ago.
MC: What’s happened now is that a lot of retailers have put protocols in place and communicated them to the shoppers so they feel more comfortable. And then there’s local jurisdiction putting ordinances in place for shoppers to wear masks.
RI: I think that the level of protection and the fact that people are used personal protection is also reflected on the chart on the right. Maybe that’s why they feel more comfortable: they are not just physically protected, they are ‘feeling’ protected.
RI: The last thing I’d like to touchon is, how are we doing? The pie chart on the left is showing that people are maybe feeling more ready for restrictions to be lifted. But the grades on the right are still not looking good – people are not happy.
MC: This will be interesting to see as a trend over time. People are at various stages of concern and acceptance. Plus there are big variances as to how people protect themselves. Hopefully, we will see a more positive turn in the near future.
RI: I would expect that until we have a vaccine, the grade will not go above a C. So much in our health and our economy is riding on the success of COVID-19 vaccine that I am having hard time imagining that anything but a success on that field will move the needle with consumer confidence.
Mary Cooper is a Senior Principal at IRI Growth Consulting with a focus on CPG and Retail. Rasto Ivanic is a founder and CEO of GroupSolver.
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Amid tightening response to COVID-19, US shoppers do their part to flatten the curve and start pondering longer-term impacts.
Last week, we took our first look at the changing reality of US shoppers finding themselves in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that as of March 9 and 10, their pulse was elevated, irregular. About a quarter of respondents were already reacting to COVID-19 by changing their grocery shopping behavior as they focused on taking early precautions.
Much has changed since last week. More cities and states have declared an emergency, and the news from other countries, such as Italy, has been shocking and upsetting. This week, we reached out again to some 500 US shoppers to take their pulse. And to help us understand what is going on in the minds of US shoppers, we invited Carrie Shea and Mary Cooper from IRI Growth Consulting to share their thoughts and perspectives.
Pulse check on March 18, 2020: Racing.
Rasto Ivanic, GroupSolver: Looking at the data from the second pulse check, what do you see in shopper responses? How would you describe US shoppers’ pulse today?
Mary Cooper, IRI: I think there is heightened awareness and increasing concern about COVID-19. The amount of shift in one week has been quite significant.
Carrie Shea, IRI:I would agree. The pulse is racing, anxiety-producing, and there is a soberness to the fact that this situation is not going away anytime soon. Like marathon runners, we as consumers will have to train our bodies and minds to deal with the long-term toll this crisis will take on our bodies, families, and economy. Hopefully, with time, we will individually and as a society get acclimated and the anxiety levels will come down.
RI:Besides observing a significant change in behavior in just one week, one of the things that did strike me was that it is the older respondents who are slowest to change their behavior in response to COVID-19. Why do you think that is?
CS:I suspect that the younger consumers are shopping more, because they are not eating out as much. Out-of-home dining has declined in parts of the country, as in-restaurant dining has been prohibited, and I suspect delivery orders are not keeping up with the loss of in-restaurant dining. Obviously, there is a lot of pantry loading going on right now, but we need ways to better understand how different demographics are more or less likely to cook at home versus order in.
RI:What are your hypotheses about potential behavior changes, new habit-forming implications that are a result of this shock to the system? What may be changing permanently?
CS:I think there are going to be some specific consumer segments emerging during this coronavirus outbreak. We will likely see a comfort food segment, whose eating habits shift to comforting, perhaps less healthy foods. Whereas we might find another segment that will seek out very healthy foods to build their immune systems. We might find another group that is motivated by gaining a sense of control during these times of chaos, and they may turn to specific types of food or eating rituals to feel more in control. We are carefully tracking social media posting to understand what new consumer “tribes” are emerging.
MC:Building on that thought process, I think that people will stock their homes better in the future and stock with healthier foods and cleaning supplies. Maybe we will have more germaphobes as a result of this crisis. I also think there will be an overall shift of what people are doing online. Setting up some online behaviors on autopilot, such as pet food deliveries, subscription services or ordering groceries on Instacart, may emerge as something we “set and forget.”
CS:I would just add to Mary’s point, I anticipate we will see a number of companies offering pantry management solutions (automatic replenishment solutions delivered to your door).
RI:This pulse check shows that only about 40% of US shoppers are doing grocery shopping online, and that number stayed the same in the first few weeks since COVID-19. You are saying that this is a number worth watching?
MC: Absolutely. This would be an interesting indicator to watch. I think it is going to move up quickly in the next couple of weeks.
RI: Speaking of eating meals at home, another sharp change we found is the decrease in the number of people who do takeout and delivery.
CS:I think there are still some people out there who are maybe older and have no other choice but to order takeout and maybe some younger people too who are ordering on GrubHub.
MC:What I am wondering is how will the looming fear of unemployment impact this behavior? Think about the office workers and tradesmen who eat out every day and now have no or more limited income. They may need to or choose to eat at home every day.
RI: This brings us to another change from the last pulse check, and that is people are now starting to worry more about the future after the virus and what the economic implications may be.
CS: Right, I think that immediate shock to the system happens, our world becomes very small and we think hour to hour, day to day, and we think about our loved ones. But as the crisis continues, and the turmoil becomes the new reality, we will start to think more about the longer term and how this shock will ripple through humanity and our economy. When we look at the news we are getting from other countries, from Italy for example, it is almost as if we could see our potential future and it is scary.
RI: Thinking about how the news and information impact our perception of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing that the general concern level has increased since last week, particularly among Republican respondents.
CS: We did see last week that people who consume certain types of media tend to be more or less concerned about this pandemic. Speaking as a lay person, it seems to me that in the last week, some liberal-leaning organizations have moderated their tone, while some conservative media outlets have become more somber. I think the media’s change in tone is what is impacting consumer concern levels.
RI: Maybe we can close with some good news. What this survey is suggesting is that people are really starting to take action. More than 90% of our respondents are saying they are handwashing, they are staying at home, and they are practicing social distancing. They seem to be getting behind the idea that we need to do something now.
RI:Thank you for your time, Carrie and Mary. Before we wrap up, what are some of the big questions you are hearing from your clients and from the industry we should be asking next week?
MC: I would be interested in understanding better the impact on e-commerce and the types of foods people are eating. We can already see some long-term impacts emerging. Can we start distilling temporary from permanent changes?
MC: I can’t help but wonder what people think about the duration of the crisis. When will it be over?
RI:These are great questions! Thank you for your time, and I am looking forward to talking with you next week!
Carrie Shea is a managing partner at IRI Growth Consulting with a wealth of experience in growth consulting and consumer insights. Mary Cooper is a senior principal at IRI Growth Consulting with a focus on CPG and Retail. Rasto Ivanic is a founder and CEO of GroupSolver.
Do you have a question you want to ask or do you want to share feedback with us? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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