This crisis gives brands and retailers the chance to change shopper behaviour

Human beings are habitual by nature.  We tend to do the same stuff if we can.  It takes something significant to change our behaviour.  That’s why it’s far easier to influence food consumption and purchase around the time of big life changes – leaving home, moving in as a couple, having a baby, a health scare, kids moving out, infirmity and so on.  These “delta moments” are up to six times more likely to feature food behaviour change. 

If this is true at an individual level, how much more so at a societal level?  As this confounded virus works its way through our country and industry, consumers, shoppers and the industry itself are being forced into significant, uncomfortable behaviour change.  For that reason, now and the near future offers a “moment in time” to take advantage as new behaviours form, and to cement our products, brands and ways of shopping, in the new order of things.

Think about consumption behaviour change.  It is normally very hard to get into people’s limited, repetitive evening meal repertoire.  It’s a bit easier right now, as people have more time and inclination for simple new ideas.  And what about all those new in-home eating occasions like the working lunch and daytime snack?  A good proportion of those will stick now we’ve all seen how brilliant Zoom and Teams are. 

Think about shopper behaviour change.  I’m not convinced we have fallen back in love with weekly shops or “discovered” local convenience stores or even specialists.  Did we really not know about all that before?  But online is different.  Many people who hadn’t bothered to get set up online – with grocery sites and with DTC – have had to get set up.  They’ve done the hard bit so why stop now?  And what about Discounters?  They are disadvantaged right now by social distancing given their smaller stores, but a recession is surely coming.  It’s hard not to see them kicking on again. 

Think about the industry.  Supply has been strained.  Retailers have had to lean on suppliers.  In some categories, the virus is another example of an increasingly volatile world – fires, droughts, failed harvests.  Will we see a trend towards longer term supplier/retailer relationships in fresh with less tendering and more focus on surety of supply? 

It’s a tough time but a very dynamic situation, which can hide significant opportunities, for people and organisations with the resilience to keep in the game. 

Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.