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Has COVID really changed the food industry?

For the first time in more than two year, the food industry is gathering in person at trade shows and events. It's the first time in two years they have come together to get a handle on what consumers are thinking, believing, hoping and fearing. Trends, flavours, and tastes have changed since March 2020, but it’s not easy to determine exactly how the consumer has evolved post-COVID.

The Agri-food Analytical Sciences Laboratory at Dalhousie University, with the help of Caddle Insights, has published new data concerning the Canadian food market. If we are to believe the forecasts, by 2025 the food market in Canada will be more home-based, more virtual, and influenced by the greater curiosity of consumers who now have higher food literacy.

First, let's talk about home life. One thing is clear, the work-from-home phenomenon is here to stay. Employers are saving by keeping some employees home, and employees are spending less on transportation, clothing, haircuts, makeup – you get the idea. It is estimated that by 2025, 39.5% of consumers, or two in five people, will work at least one day a week from home. By spending more time at home, consumers have also been cooking more and learning new culinary skills. Not only have 34.2% of Canadians learned at least one new cooking style since the start of the pandemic, but 51.8% have also learned at least three new recipes. Nearly 40% of people have acquired new skills such as making bread or pasta at home, and 45.2% have discovered new ingredients. In other words, food literacy in Canada has increased since the start of the pandemic. The industry must deal with a more curious public, who will have an informed opinion on a greater number of products.

The number of households that own at least one pet has also soared. Since the start of the pandemic, 26.1% of Canadian households, or one in four, have adopted a pet for the first time, and half of them have adopted either a cat or a dog. This is not a trivial fact since research tells us that a pet owner will be more sensitive to ethical animal treatment. This will have a significant effect on choice of protein consumed. In fact, we estimate that 3.2 million Canadians now consider themselves flexitarians, about 1 million are pescatarians, 913,000 are vegetarians and 560,000 are vegans. Apart from veganism, all diet types with less meat or no meat are on the rise in Canada. This is something to watch very closely for food innovators. The prices at the meat counter lately probably haven't helped, either. Beef prices have gone up by as much as 20% in the last year in some cases.

Consumers are also shopping differently. In fact, 26.1% of Canadians have visited stores they hadn’t visited before the pandemic. It's pretty much the same for restaurants. COVID has prompted many consumers to reconsider where they regularly buy their food. These are great opportunities for the industry. Less populous regions are also getting a second wind due to more people fleeing big cities in Canada, and the food industry is rapidly adjusting.

As a result, the virtual food market is exploding. Nearly 40% of Canadians order food, either at retail or in foodservice, at least once every two weeks. By 2025, 30.1% of Canadians will continue to buy food online on a regular basis. Indeed, we anticipate that by 2025, 10% of food sales in Canada will occur online. Before the pandemic, estimates were around 1.7%. Quite an increase.

And finally, Canadians are learning about food trends on social media. Aside from family, You Tube, Tik Tok and Facebook are the most used communication vehicles that influence Canadian diets. The industry needs to increase its presence on these platforms if it wants to influence trends, especially after a pandemic has forced everyone to take in more information online.

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