WATCH: When will things get back to 'normal'? IRI tracks food consumption shifts inspired by COVID-19

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags COVID-19 COVID Iri food consumption

The shift in food consumption towards the home in the early weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic has been well-documented, with many packaged food products experiencing a noticeable uplift. But have things since returned to 'normal,' and if not, when might they?

According to a new report from IRI entitled Q1 2021 Emerging Growth Pockets​, at-home consumption has remained elevated through Q1, 2021. However, as mobility (ie. people getting out more) improves, "we expect this elevation vs. normal to erode, but ​[it will] still​ [be] higher vs. pre-COVID-19."

According to IRI, just prior to the pandemic, sales of food consumed away from the home (which is more expensive) slightly eclipsed sales of food consumed in the home.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, however, foodservice/restaurant sales dropped significantly, with sales of foods in grocery stores (which are less expensive) picking up the slack.

This meant that overall dollars spent on food went down.

By Q4, 2021, IRI expects at-home and away-from-home sales to converge (ie. to reach about 50:50). 

Coronavirus cuisine...

So which food categories categories have benefited from some of the most sustained uplifts in retail sales over the past 52 weeks*?

According to IRI, the big winner in grocery during the pandemic has been frozen food, with millennials and Gen Z driving growth.

However, other winners during the pandemic have been pre-mixed cocktails and coolers (+130.6%) and cocktail mixes (+38.2%), refrigerated pickles/relish (+39%), seafood (frozen +40.4%, refrig +43.3%), liquid drink enhancers (+36.3%), refrigerated cheesecake (+36.4%), frozen meat (+35.2%) & poultry (36.2%), and Asian cuisine (+36.1%).

Broad trends emerging from the pandemic include: self & societal care (think rising sales of immunity, sleep products), indulgence, and convenience.

*US retail sales data from IRI, MULO and convenience, 52 weeks to March 28, 2021.

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