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Enter the transition era

As Canadians shift back to “normal” life, adapting solutions to meet evolving needs will be key

After a tumultuous18-month period, Canadians are finally transitioning toward the “post-pandemic period” with a renewed sense of optimism. In fact, Ipsos’ September 2021 optimism and outlook tracking—in its daily syndicated food and beverage tracking services—recently revealed that more than a third of Canadians (37%) are looking ahead to a return to many normal activities that will enable them to enjoy life more than ever before.

Despite this progress, it’s important to understand that consumers will continue to be cautious, particularly in the near term, as more than two-thirds of consumers (68%) still feel normalcy is more than a year away. This guarded mindset has an enormous influence over our habits, beliefs and choices, as well as impacting our overall openness to engaging in new experiences. It’s undeniable that the shared pandemic experience has already left an indelible imprint on the consumer psyche.

Though consumers are likely to remain more conservative in their daily behaviours, pent-up demand to once again explore and re-discover has begun to translate to individuals seeking new—but still safe—food experiences that can be shared, made and traded once again.

From comfort to exploration

Throughout the pandemic, homebound consumers have been heavily focused on indulgence (+24% versus the pre-pandemic period), motivated by the need to comfort and treat oneself and loved ones in the midst of chaos, isolation and lockdown. Consumption choices have also been heavily impacted by nostalgia and the need to connect to memories of past, simpler times.

However, the recent easing of movement restrictions around the country and return to work and school has prompted two notable shifts:

  1. A greater desire to exert more control over daily choices has resulted in a shift in behaviour toward more health-focused foods (+20% versus January 2021). This shift will focus on those items that are believed to offer functional benefits. Specifically, the emphasis will be on benefits tied to digestive issues, immunity function, sleep quality, cognitive health, and mood moderation or stress reduction.
  2. Rising demand for authentic and fun experiences (+50% versus January 2021) that reflect the desire for increased variety and a return to global discovery. Over half of consumers (53%) report seeking options that break from normal eating routines.

Return to foodservice

Key to strengthening Canadians’ reconnection to food exploration and experience is the return to restaurant dining. Ipsos Foodservice Monitor reports a 42% uptick in September traffic rates to restaurants compared to January 2021.

There’s a rising need for convenience, fun experience, and quick portability along with an increased quest for diversity and authenticity. Those in grocery retailing will need to be mindful of these shifting needs, and create meal options that target the evolving mindset during this transition period.

Re-igniting family and friend experiences

While many of us look to break out of pandemic meal patterns plagued by boredom and limited repertoires, a key driver of new experiences is the need to connect with family and friends. Ipsos reports that shared celebratory occasions in September 2021 increased (+39%) versus January 2021, resulting in notable increases in consumption of items like cheese, salsa/ dips, ice cream, pasta and baked goods. Drinking rates of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, fruit juices and sparkling water also increased during special shared occasions in September.

Looking ahead

There’s undoubtedly considerable consumer demand to re-engage with new food experiences that reconnect us to the contemporary food culture. However, we can’t mistake that pent-up demand for new experiences or desire to counter boredom as a sudden openness to extreme experimentation. It will likely take some time to return to that level of culinary exploration.

That said, as we consider future innovation of meal and snack solutions, there are still limitless opportunities to successfully innovate and create options that reflect an understanding of evolving market conditions, shifting consumer need states, rising prioritization of dietary and wellness benefits, and unique global flavour preferences.

This column appeared in Canadian Grocer's November 2021 issue.


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