TORONTO – The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated Canadian usage of e-commerce, and online grocery was one of the main benefactors.
By mid-April, 37 percent Canadians were shopping more online, with 22 percent of Canadians specifically noting they were buying more groceries online due to COVID-19, including 10 percent of seniors (those aged 65+).
Physical grocery stores have a big challenge to get consumers back into stores. Research by Mintel shows that as of mid-April, 70 percent of Canadian shoppers were making fewer trips to the grocery store than usual, and in the middle of July, 71 percent were limiting the time they spent in the store.
Consumers were also doing what they could to protect themselves: 67 percent said they were taking extra precautions when shopping in stores, e.g. wiping down their carts, keeping their distance from other shoppers. These protective behaviours are continuing, at the end of July, half of Canadians continue to be worried about the risk of being exposed to the virus, driving two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers to limit the time they spend in-stores.
“The challenge grocery retailers face now and in the months to come will be to convince consumers to come back into stores and shop for longer periods of time. Encouraging consumers to do so will have a positive impact on the ‘act of discovery’,” said Carol Wong-Li, associate director, lifestyles and leisure at Mintel.
“Consumers will need to be encouraged to slow down and re-engage in spontaneous behaviours like browsing and trying new products, reminding them that shopping pre-COVID was a leisurely enjoyable activity, not what it is considered now – more ‘mission-minded’ with safety remaining at top of mind for consumers.”
The essential nature of food at home has not been lost, as of the beginning of May, 48 percent of consumers said they had made groceries a higher spending priority at the height of the pandemic, while over a quarter (28 percent) agreed that they were less-budget conscious than usual when it came to buying groceries. Shelf-stable products became a star performer, with 43 percent of Canadians saying they were buying more groceries that would stay fresh for longer like frozen, canned and boxed food.
“An area that was once stigmatized for being less healthy, the centre of the store where shelf-stable items tend to be, has been revitalized due to the uncertainty associated with the pandemic. Preventative measures put in place, like mandatory restaurant closings, led Canadians to cook more from home – providing a boost to shelf-stable products,” said Wong-Li.
The link between food and comfort is undeniable amongst Canadians: 46 percent of Canadians eat comfort foods as a way of managing stress. During the pandemic, the importance of food in addressing elevated levels of stress was seen with 33 percent of Canadian women reporting that they were eating more indulgent food like chocolate, ice cream or pizza to help them cope with the situation.
“As the uncertainty of the pandemic is set to be the reality for the near future, functional claims – including specific ingredients that help with stress relief or improving sleep – will matter more to consumers now and in the months to come,” Wong-Li concluded.