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Confronting COVID weight gain

Women and younger Canadians are keenly aware of extra pounds. Diet trends offer grocers an opportunity

Just about every facet of Canadian consumer life has experienced exceptional shifts in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. From work and the economy to education and pastimes, not to mention health and lifestyle choices, Canadians have weathered an incredible storm of change over the past 17 months.

Consumption patterns offer a useful litmus test to measure the effects of such drastic life changes. Just as shoppers began hoarding home-baking necessities in the early days of the pandemic, we witnessed a shift to the freezer aisles for groceries like vegetables and fruits as well as meal and snacking solutions later in 2020 and into 2021.

Yet, these shifting patterns have undoubtedly come at a price: According to Caddle’s Daily Survey Panel (June 2021), about half of Canadians have gained weight since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those people, more than one-third gained six to 10 pounds while 40% gained 11 pounds or more.

While gen Xers and millennials attribute at least some of their weight gain to “lack of exercise” (over-indexing against the general population by 2+ points), millennials and gen Zers also rank “poor diet” and “eating habits” as important contributing factors in their weight management challenges.

This begs the question: now that the pandemic is coming under control, what are consumers planning to do about their weight management challenges?

For 60% of Canadians, “eating healthy” means “eating well balanced.” As such, to start, half of consumers plan to adopt better diets. Among other changes, this means increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and decreasing sugar and carbohydrate intake (notably among women, baby boomers, gen Xers and millennials).

Meanwhile, gen Zers and millennials are most likely among all cohorts to use Weight Watchers, keto or other diet plans to lose weight (over-indexing by 13 and seven points, respectively). Finally, 59% of people who have gained unwanted pounds plan to eat out less and 68% plan to cook more homemade meals (particularly millennials and gen Zers, who over-index by at least five points on both measures.)

Consumer interest in weight loss also has the potential to overtake store loyalty. At least one-third of consumers are likely to change where they shop for groceries in an effort to lose weight. This includes turning to online sources (particularly for gen Zers, whose digital savviness makes them the group most likely to shop online). At the same time, half of all consumers would move their grocery spend to a store that made it easier to shop for products that were healthier and helped them to lose weight.

What can we conclude from all this? Interest in healthy eating will continue to impact consumer decision-making for months to come. From specific product selection, all the way up the funnel to choice of banners, consumers are diverting more of their grocery spend toward healthier options. This could have serious repercussions for retailers’ share of wallet.

The opportunity now is for retailers to offer healthier (i.e. well-balanced) food options to keep consumers shopping in their stores. This means continuing to push meal solutions, but with consideration for ingredients that fit into keto or other diet plans. And if they haven’t already, retailers of all sizes and types will want to get their e-commerce presence in order, making sure to prioritize food options that speak to Canadian consumers’ shifting eating habits as the pandemic winds down and life gets back to some semblance of “new normal.”

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