How to cater for food behaviours that have been changed by Covid

Most people are very habitual in their food choices.  We have a small repertoire of options for our meals, which we constantly recycle, with only occasional changes. 

But there are times in our lives when we are more open to change and much more likely to try something different.  Let’s call these Delta Moments – times like leaving home, moving in as a couple, having kids, health scares, divorce and the death of a partner.  People who are at these Delta Moments are not 10% more likely to change their food habits – it can be more like 500%. 

Covid is a societal Delta Moment.  Millions of people are in changed circumstances that are prompting changes in their meal environments, needs and behaviours.  That means this is good time for food companies to market products and meal ideas.  The audience is much more receptive to change than usual.

So, what are the big changes we are seeing in food behaviour post Covid and how can companies take advantage?

The key dynamic is more eating at home, especially for people of working age.  Fewer people will have jobs.  And more of those that do have jobs, will be working from home. 

First, more weekday lunches at home.  Historically, this has been a low value, low interest occasion.  A quick sandwich, beans on toast or whatever is left over in the fridge.  But consumers miss the excitement and colour of Food on The Go. Companies can add value with something more vibrant for lunch at home.  It must be super easy to prepare and clean up.  There has been good innovation in Ambient (e.g. John West, Batchelors) but the chilled aisles could do more to serve this occasion.

Second, more weekday snacking at home and particularly healthier snacking.  Those at home may be more sedentary and thus more conscious of calories.  And many will be more controlled in their purchasing (snacks bought from a supermarket for the week ahead, not snacks bought to eat now, when the shopper is hungry and less equal to the temptation of chocolate and crisps). 

Third, treat meals at the weekend.  We will continue to eat out less.  Some of us will switch to Deliveroo, but plenty will look to grocery stores to fill the gap.  This is an opportunity for “night off the cooking” such as M&S Dine In for £12 or the Tesco £10 Pizza Meal Deal.  But it is also an opportunity to help shoppers with “effort meals” when they challenge themselves to cook something a bit more involved, as many did in lockdown.  Cooking brands and products have been in strong growth through the crisis.

The highest value food occasion is still weekday evening meal at home.  It can’t grow as fast because most of these meals were at home already.  But it will always be critical for categories like meat, fish, vegetables, and prepared meals.  Getting into that limited repertoire of meals, then staying there, is the key to success.

So social change brings food change.  Food change brings growth opportunities.  Weekday lunch and healthier snacking.  Treat meals at the weekend.  And weekday evening meal remains key.

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.

© 2020 by Insight Traction