IFIC: ‘The changes we have all made to our eating and food preparation habits over the … last year are decreasing’

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ AnnaStills
Source: Getty/ AnnaStills

Related tags International Food Information Council Online shopping ecommerce coronavirus

While many of the grocery shopping and eating habits adopted during the pandemic remain elevated compared to before the coronavirus outbreak, some are beginning to erode as the threat of COVID-19 subsides and local economies – including restaurants and offices – begin to reopen, according to new research from the International Food Information Council.

When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, how consumers purchased food, where they ate and what they ate shifted dramatically and quickly with 60% of consumers polled for IFIC’s 2020 annual Food & Health survey reporting that they were cooking at home more, 20% eating more pre-made meals from their pantries or freezers, about 33% snacking more and 20% eating more than usual.

A year later, these trends remain relevant, but they are decreasing, according to IFIC’s 2021 Food & Health Survey​ released last week.

“Perhaps this isn’t very surprising that the changes we have all made to our eating and our food preparation habits over the course of the last year are decreasing in relation to what we were doing in 2020,”​ said Ali Webster, director of research and nutrition communication at IFIC. But, she added, there is a distinct “downshift in some of the changes relative to the start to return to normalcy.”

For example, she noted, “We still see considerable amounts of people that say they’re cooking at home more in 2021, but it shifted down from that 60% to just under 50% of people saying that they’re continuing to cook at home more. And that’s something that we’ve consistently seen through other survey data surrounding COVID-19.”

The percentage of people reporting that they are snacking more also dropped to just under 20% as did the percentage of people eating more pre-made meals from their pantries and freezer, which fell to about 10% in this year’s survey.

Some newly adopted habits have held steady, though, according to IFIC’s survey, which was conducted in March. For example, it found the same percentage of people are getting more meals delivered and ordering take-out at about 15% and eating healthier than usual at about 20%.

Concern about exposure remains high among grocery shoppers

Likewise, there continues to be considerable concern about COVID-19 exposure when it comes to certain settings related to food, Webster said.

“There’s still four out of every 10 people who are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 when they’re shopping in person at the grocery store,”​ she said, noting easing safety measures may contribute to this concern.

“Mask mandate are being lifted all over the place and there’s been a major shift over the last week as some of the behaviors and policies that are happening around the pandemic [are lifted]. And so, with all these things swirling around, even at the present time, there is certainly a high level of concern that people have about their exposure in these settings,”​ Webster explained.

Specifically, IFIC found 39% of consumers remain concerned about shopping in-person at the grocery store, 37% are concerned about exposure from cooks who prepare food in restaurants and 28% worry about exposure from farmers and food manufacturers.

Concern about exposure in all three scenarios is higher among African Americans compared to non-Hispanic whites and among parents with children under 18 years than those without young children, according to IFIC.

Online shopping continues to gain traction

Given these lingering concerns, Webster said she isn’t surprised to see that online grocery shopping continues to gain traction with more people shopping online now than in 2020 and 2019. IFIC found, 20% of consumers surveyed in 2021 report grocery shopping online at least once a week compared to 11% in 2020 and 13% in 2019.

These numbers double for people who report grocery shopping online at least monthly with 42% in 2021, 33% in 2020 and 27% in 2019.

Online shoppers are more likely to be younger, African American and parents, according to IFIC, which found 35% of 18- to 34-year-olds grocery shop online at least once a week compared to 14% of shoppers 35 years and older. Similarly, 35% of African Americans buy groceries online at least once a week compared to 17% of non-Hispanic whites, and 32% of parents with children under 18 years grocery shop online at least weekly versus 16% of consumers without young children.

The percentage of consumers who continue to shop in person at least once a week still far out paces online shoppers at 63%, which is the same as in 2020, according to IFIC. However, those who prefer in-store shopping are more likely to be in excellent or very good health, the survey reveals. It found 74% of people who shop in person are healthy versus 60% of those in worse health.

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