food consumption trends

Predicting post-pandemic food consumption trends

A new report from Deloitte assesses what the future could look like beyond the pandemic when it comes to Canadian food consumption trends.

The conflicted consumer: 2021 food consumer survey” report concludes that beyond the COVID-19 pandemic “food retailers will need to continue demonstrating authenticity, empathy, transparency, and genuine commitment to their communities, the wider world, and especially their employees.”

The study notes that retail and food workers are now recognized as essential workers with vital roles in supporting society. As such, companies have an opportunity to capitalize by transforming their employees into trusted industry advisors by providing them with education and development.

The report advises that the focus must be on maintaining the momentum that has been gained during the pandemic by identifying which consumer trends of the past year have the potential for permanence.

Key trends

But just what are those key trends?

Home cooking

According to Deloitte, a primary trend is the “rise of the epicurean”; i.e. the surge in home cooking that has been a natural result of so many facilities being closed for so long since March 2020.

The report found:

  • 66 per cent of all respondents — up to 72 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 — say they’re cooking meals at home more than in the previous year
  • 63 per cent prepare dinner from scratch four to six times a week
  • 85 per cent spent more on fresh produce
  • 79 per cent spent more on plant-based milks and other non-dairy products
  • 72 per cent spent more on meat alternatives; and
  • 40 per cent spent less on baked desserts, prepared ingredients and hot ready-to-eat meals

As Marty Weintraub, national retail leader at Deloitte Canada, noted, “the big question is how much of that will stick afterwards.”

Deloitte expects a significant portion of that movement to endure beyond the pandemic. One reason for that conclusion, said Weintraub, is that the increased level of home cooking aligns with previous trends that had been growing pre-pandemic such as the greater interest in health and wellness, sustainability, and waste reduction.

Even the expected increase in dining out when restaurants reopen is not likely to reverse the increased interest in home cooking, says the report.

New consumption

Another likely long-term trend is the rise in interest in and consumption of meal kits. One in 10 Canadians tried a meal-kit delivery service for the first time during the pandemic, and 65 per cent of that group say they will continue to use meal-kit delivery in the next 12 months.

“There won’t be a tremendous amount of pullback,” Weintraub said. “I think it’s a real threat, and we’ve seen some grocers respond with their own meal-kit services. But I do think this will be a bit of a battle coming out of the pandemic.”

The pandemic also led Canadians to try new food shopping options for the first time, with a notable uptick in digital takeout ordering.

  • 25 per cent tried curbside pickup for the first time
  • 15 per cent branched out into grocery delivery
  • 15 took up third-party food delivery services
  • 10 per cent tried meal-kit delivery

However, just 23 per cent of respondents said they are satisfied with online delivery or pickup. Indeed, according to the survey, Canadians still buy 89 per cent of their groceries in brick-and-mortar stores instead of online, although this figure falls to 84 per cent for those aged 18 to 34.

Proliferation of online business

Another key conclusion drawn was that foodservice operators will need to maintain their spike in online activity beyond the pandemic.

“They need to continue to innovate that online experience, and keep that profit online,” Weintraub said. “Find that balance between in store and online, because there is a balance.”

The study was based on research conducted by Deloitte between March 2020 and May 2021, including quantitative surveys in March 2020 and again in 2021 and qualitative research across age groups and in-depth interviews with industry executives.

Read the full report.