What Covid has changed for shoppers, and what has stayed the same.

As we emerge into what we hope is the start of the post Covid recovery, what has changed in our marketplace, what is the same, and what are the implications?

First, the way the UK eats.  What has changed?  More eating at home than pre Covid.  More In-home snacking, lunch and evening meal, as foodservice struggles to recover.  What is the same?  The kind of food and meals that we eat.  If it’s a weeknight, it has to be easy, quick and familiar.  If it’s a weekend, we either have a bit more time and energy to cook or we want a complete night off. If it’s quick lunch, it is super simple, cheap and mess free.  There is talk about a return to cooking and food involvement but this is slight, not radical.  The implication?  Stay focused on ease and speed, to capitalise on the new in-home occasions. 

Second, the way we shop.  What has changed?  Online grocery has doubled, finding a new audience across the generations.  Direct to consumer is buoyant, particularly the kits companies (Gousto etc), and hot food delivery.  Convenience stores have dropped back from the first lockdown boom, but are beginning to offer ultra-convenient “last mile” delivery (e.g. Deliveroo and CoOp, Snappy Shopper etc)  What is the same?  The way that shoppers allocate attention and make choices at the point of purchase.  They are in a rush, so products and categories must be instantly recognisable, easy to process (make clear what they are for, how they work) and an obvious choice (transparently a solution for a consumer problem – for instance a meal for tonight sorted).  The implication?  Be there early in developing channels, to insure your future.  Adapt those fundamental rules of winning with shoppers to each channel.

Finally, what we value.  What has changed?  We are less prone to see-saw between the individual and the societal perspective.  You might have thought people would have forgotten about society and sustainability as their personal health and security were threatened by Covid.  It hasn’t happened.  If anything, the opposite.  The conversation about meat, fish and meat-free is growing.  The conversation about business models – Amazon and the High Street, Deliveroo, and so on – is growing.  What is the same?  Personal aspiration.  We buy products, brands and categories because of what we think they connote about us. We value products with meaning beyond the rational or technical.  Otherwise we’d buy more own label than we do.  So what are the implications?  Companies must confront their social and environmental duties and talk effectively about what they do.  But they must also market aspirationally, with products, messaging and packaging that reflects the kind of a life that their consumers want to live. 

A lot has changed.  A lot has stayed the same.  So what?  Stick to the fundamental principles but adapt for the new environment. 

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.

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