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Pandemic has led to increased opportunity for grocery: Report

Maru Group’s The Future of Food report says private-label brands can be a major beneficiary
Shutterstock/George Rudy

The pandemic has shifted consumer focus from out-of-home to in-home dining, leading to an increased willingness to try new food brands and channels. That has opened the door for companies to grab additional market share through innovation, says a new report from the market research firm Maru Group.

The Future of Food report, for which 3,000 Americans and Canadians were surveyed, says one of the biggest prevailing trends is that the in-home kitchen has become the new restaurant. Food companies and retailers that can bring some of the “adventure, fun and pleasure” of restaurant dining into the home will be among the big winners, it says.

Restaurant spending has fallen by an estimated 70% during the pandemic, says the report, and the grocery industry has been a major beneficiary of this change. More than one-third of respondents (35%) surveyed by Maru Group say their spending on groceries has increased in the past year.

The report also cites data from consultancy McKinsey, which found that consumers are increasingly trying new brands, different stores and channels, a trend that could help private-label brands grab market share.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to grab switchers before this round of musical chairs ends abruptly,” says the report, noting that initial exploration by consumers is quickly becoming established behaviour. Eighty per cent of respondents who have tried a new behaviour or brand, for example, say they intend to carry on once things return to normal.

The opportunity for private-label brands, in particular, is significant, says Maru Group, since online shopping provides retailers with an opportunity to showcase those products on their virtual shelves.

There is both a downside—and significant opportunity—to all of this at-home dining. When researchers asked people what words they associated with “food made at home” and “food from a restaurant,” the latter elicited responses like “adventure,” “fun” and “exciting,” while food made at home tended to garner responses such as “routine,” “time consuming” and “repetitious.”

With two-thirds of respondents (65%) saying they are tired of cooking at home, and more than half (58%) saying they have had enough of comfort foods, the report says consumers are seeking ideas that “can turn obligation into adventure.”

There is also an opportunity, the report says, in “demystifying” exotic ingredients. Using a shelf talker showing how to make a five-minute Pad Thai using peanut butter, for example, can not only help sell more peanut butter, but also fish sauce and rice noodles.

The research also identified four key consumer segments that have arisen during the pandemic, with a group it calls the Pressure Cookers holding particular promise for the grocery sector because of an openness to innovation.

Pressure Cookers have developed a “complicated” love/hate relationship with food, says the report: while they love to cook, they would be happy if they never had to prepare a meal again. They are most likely to have changed their food habits, however, and are receptive to trying new ingredients.

They shop for food at the widest variety of stores, the report continues. And while they have increased their online ordering, that hasn’t stopped them from shopping around. “Ideas for quick, easy-to-make meals using unique ingredients are a way to add value for Pressure Cookers,” the report says.

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