Many of the food and drink habits consumers developed throughout the pandemic have become routine, including more flexible meal needs, a reliance on e-commerce, and a proactive approach to health, noted Jenny Zegler, associate director of food and drink at Mintel.
"Convenience and health will be top priorities for US consumers in 'the next normal.' The anticipated shift to hybrid at-home and away-from-home work schedules will make easy-to-use products and time-saving e-commerce options essential to reducing the stress of meal-time and grocery shopping," wrote Zegler in a blog post.
Hybrid meal solutions
With hybrid work schedules becoming the norm for many US adults (nearly two in five US adults expect their employer to institute hybrid work arrangements, Mintel found), retailers and food providers will need to answer consumer demand for time-saving food and drink options near and far from home.
"The move to flexible work schedules aligns with more casual and less strict approaches to routines that were established during at-home time in 2020 and early 2021," said Zegler, adding that consumers have grown accustomed to the freedom of establishing their own meal times.
"This will place new demands on convenience food that can be personalized to fit in with any application or occasion, whether it be grab-and-go for in-person work days or slow-cooked dinners on work-from-home days," noted Zegler.
Convenience-oriented foods that still allow for customization will become increasingly valuable to consumers as they enter a new hybrid routine, according to Zegler. who said that convenience food and drink options can be positioned as solutions to alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, or burnout many consumers have felt over the last 18 months.
Growing e-commerce loyalty
E-commerce has won over and kept new shoppers who turned to shopping for their food and beverages online throughout the pandemic.
Nearly three in five US grocery shoppers who shopped in-store and online prior to the pandemic reported shopping more online during COVID-19, according to Mintel survey data.
"The time savings and feelings of safety of not shopping in person during COVID-19 are likely among the reasons why more than half of US adults who are shopping more online for groceries during COVID-19 plan to continue doing so when COVID-19 is no longer a threat," Zegler mentioned.
More millennials, however, will be sticking with online shopping and are likely to increasing their online grocery shopping, while baby boomers are more likely to decrease their online shopping habits.
"Low fees can keep these shoppers, especially those shopping for smaller households," said Zegler, who noted how online retailers and brands can increase loyalty with low delivery fees and personalized promotions and recommendations.
Embracing holistic view on health
The pandemic has prompted a proactive and all-encompassing approach to health and self-care with diet playing a lead role in consumers' shift to holistic health.
According to Mintel research, health tops the list of 2021 life priorities, slightly edging out family life and relationships.
Mintel also found that nearly half of US adults felt more in control of their health in November 2020 than they did in January 2020, while over one-quarter surveyed said they felt less in control.
"The future approach to 'self-care' will move from 'comfort food' to nutritious food. Food and drink has an opportunity to help people balance moods and emotions," said Zegler.
"The pandemic has accelerated the importance of mental and emotional health. The focus on mental and emotional health should be regarded as a long-term trend because people aged 18-34 are most likely to be open about and seeking mental health solutions," she added.
Food and beverage products with functional formulations that can help consumers relax and recharge while offering convenience will resonate strongly with consumers dealing pandemic fatigue and depleted energy levels, according to Mintel.