Inflation overtakes COVID-19 as diners’ main concern

New data from Numerator has shown that consumers’ longstanding concerns over the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic are being replaced by worries about high levels of inflation and other financial constraints.

A webinar hosted by Brian Ettkin, Canadian Lead of Strategy & Solutions Consulting at Numerator, assessed the company’s latest month-over-month data and found that financial concerns are usurping pandemic fears as the number-one limiting factor for consumers who are keen to return to indoor dining.

Diners returning as COVID-19 restrictions ease

In February, four in five (80.2 per cent of) Canadian consumers said that COVID-19 had changed how much they had eaten out over the last six months. In March, as cased have declined and health restrictions have been further eased, that was down to 73 per cent.

That’s down to consumers feeling more comfortable. In March vs. February, the level of people who reported feeling somewhat or extremely comfortable eating inside a restaurant rose nine per cent, while comfort around shopping inside a store without a mask rose by 11 per cent. Indeed, March saw a dramatic pivot, with nearly one in four (23.6 per cent) of consumers reporting they had increased instances of dining out either slightly or significantly.

Trend set to continue

That is likely to continue, too, through the spring and summer, according to Numerator’s data.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of consumers surveyed in March reported that they plan to increase dining out over the next six months, up significantly from around 33 per cent in February. This will be seen mostly in the desire to get out for dinner, although dining out for lunch, breakfast, and coffee/snacks are all also expected to increase.

For those who plan to eat out more over the next six months, there was a huge month-over-month increase in the number of people who said they are not as concerned about COVID-19 as they used to be: up from 27.4 per cent in February to 37.1 per cent in March.

That confidence is emboldening diners, and when it comes to specific motivations to eat out more, 27.8 per cent said they are tired of cooking at home or meal planning, up 3.5 per cent from February.

The top reason remains the desire to support local business, at 45.1 per cent.

Financial concerns abound

However, big concerns remain from consumers about the state of the Canadian economy as the effects of record levels of inflation, as well as rising costs of gas and other factors, continue to be felt.

Indeed, for many consumers, it appears the primary concern has now shifted from COVID-19 to inflation.

When the people who said they would eat out less over the next six months were asked why that was, 44.3 per cent said they were concerned about inflation and 35.2 per cent cited worries about other financial impacts. Those figures were up by 2.3 and 4.7 per cent respectively in March compared with February.

In comparison, 40.7 per cent said they remained concerned about COVID-19 in March, down 3.5 per cent from February. Younger generations were not as concerned about COVID-19, but were highly concerned about inflation and the desire to save money.

Ultimately, the survey concluded that consumers are keen to get back to pre-pandemic habits around dining out, but that desire is being stunted by concerns around COVID-19 persisting and, more often, financial worries.