pandemic food trends

Assessing which pandemic food trends will stick

Many new pandemic food trends have been formed during COVID-19. But how of them will be sticking around?

Data and tech company Numerator has tried to assess just that in a new COVID Buyer Habit Index aimed at understanding the “stickiness” of new consumer buying behaviours.

The analysis examines pandemic food trends in major categories including alcohol, baking and cooking, beverages, meat, and snacks to identify which categories were more habit-forming in 2020 vs. 2019.

The index compares repeat-purchase behaviour of new category buyers during the height of COVID-19 panic buying from March to April 2020 to new buyers in the same period in 2019.

Numerator used six repeat purchases by year-end 2020 following a first-time purchase in March-April 2020 to qualify as habits, although the study can be adjusted for any time period and repurchase rate (methodology noted at end).

“Consumers radically changed buying behaviours during COVID. Brands and retailers need to understand which new COVID behaviours solidified into habits that are likely to persist post-COVID-19,” said Eric Belcher, CEO, Numerator. “This is important to define reopening strategies from marketing through inventory management.”

Some specific conclusions were that extensive time at home has helped consumers master more complex and less familiar food preparation. This is indicated by the fact that raw baking ingredients indexed higher than baking mixes and fresh seafood indexed higher than more familiar meats and poultry.


  • New alcohol buyers were more likely to have continued to buy alcohol throughout 2020 than new alcohol buyers in 2019, boosted by widespread bar and restaurant closures.
  • Wine was the most “sticky” alcohol category, with 2020 new buyers 66 per cent more likely to have repurchased the category in six or more of the remaining months of the year (vs. 2019), followed by beer (45 per cent) and spirits (42 per cent).

Baking & Cooking

  • “Baking from scratch” became a habit: Raw baking materials were far more likely to be sticky in 2020 with baking ingredients and flours & blends indexing at 149 and 133 versus baking mixes at 116. One notable exception is yeast & leaveners which indexed at 32, perhaps indicative of the reported shortages in this category at various points of 2020.


  • New soft drink buyers were 29 per cent more likely to have formed a habit vs. 2019 new buyers, with a COVID-19-driven shift from out-of-home to in-home consumption.
  • The Sports & Energy Drinks Habit Index was 111. Kombucha was less habit-forming in 2020 vs. the prior year, with new drinkers 22 per cent less likely to have formed a habit.


  • Seafood was more habit-driving in 2020 than in years past, with fresh seafood indexing at 178 and new frozen seafood at 114.
  • Beef and frozen meat new buyers were more likely to have formed a habit during the pandemic as well, with 2020 buyers 18 per cent and 17 per cent more likely to have formed a habit in 2020 vs. 2019, respectively.
  • Despite gaining traction in the past few years, meat alternatives new buyers were slightly less likely (-7 per cent) to have formed a habit in 2020 vs. 2019.


  • Snack mixes and meat snacks were slightly more likely to be habit-forming in 2020 at 13 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.
  • Healthier snacks were slightly less likely to be habit-forming (popcorn -4 per cent, nutrition & wholesome -6 per cent, puffed snacks -7 per cent, pea/bean/vegetable snacks -18 per cent).

Methodology: New Buyers are defined as having purchased a given product/category for the first time in 6+ months during the focus period (March – April 2020). New Habit Formers are a subset of New Buyers, and have re-purchased the category in six or more of the remaining months in the post-period (May – December 2020). The New Habit Index is calculated as the percentage of New Buyers who formed habits in 2020 vs the percentage who formed habits during 2019.

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