Instacart talks return of on-the-go convenience and viral food trends: 'In a nutshell, 2021 was a back-to-normal(ish) year for groceries'

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / 10'000 Hours
Photo Credit: GettyImages / 10'000 Hours

Related tags Instacart Social media on-the-go

Tracking online grocery shopping habits over the past year, Instacart identified a shift back towards convenient on-the-go food items and the rising adoption of viral food recipes and hacks popularized by social media platforms such as TikTok.

"In a nutshell, 2021 was a back-to-normal(ish) year for groceries with the addition of social media food culture as an influencing mainstay,"​ said Instacart in its 2021 Year in Groceries report.

The report​ was based on an online survey of 2,013 US adult consumers conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Instacart between November 11 -15, 2021.

Kicking off 2021, many consumers still took refuge in their home kitchens, experimenting with new recipes and viral TikTok food trends. But as life started to return to a pre-pandemic normal as the year progressed, grocery shopping habits shifted and shoppers started purchasing convenient, on-the-go foods once again, noted Instacart.

Trending items

Instacart noted a re-emergence of convenient, on-the-go, and easy prep grocery items. 

Gemelli pasta (+457%), cereal bars (+193%), prepared sandwiches and wraps (+94%), frozen French toast (+86%), and energy drinks (+62%) were among the top trending items in the past year compared to 2020, according to Instacart's data on online grocery orders.

On the flip side, items that reflected many pandemic consumption habits fell in order frequency, including yeast (-57%), all-purpose flour (-51%), and hand sanitizer. 

Kids snacks, a benchmark for normalcy

Tracking quintessential kids' lunchbox snacks (granola bars, pudding packs, and fruit snacks) is a strong indicator that consumers and households are on the move again, noted Instacart.

"Shopping behaviors around kids’ snacks are some of the most stable and predictable that we see across all of our grocery data — they’re not at the mercy of trends and therefore give us a wonderfully clear benchmark for 'normal,'"​ noted Instacart in its research. 

Instacart has a separate report, called the Pudding Pack Index, which aggregates sales within the Instacart marketplace across ten key categories of kids snacks (pudding snacks, fruit bars, fruit snack cups, snack bars, pre-cut fruits, yogurt pouches, etc.).

"Parents represent a cross-section of American culture on every level, and when they’re adding pudding packs to their cart, it means they’re also starting to head back to the office, drop their kids off at school, take vacations, and more."

According to the index, during the full first month of stay-at-home orders in April 2020, the index reached an all-time low, plunging 49.6% lower than pre-pandemic levels. The closest the index has reached to pre-pandemic levels of normalcy was in July 2021 when vaccinations were in full force. 


"Today we’re back down to 12.6% below “normal,” with the jury out on how potential winter surges and new variants of concern may impact the trendline," ​said Instacart

Social media drives food trends in 2022

The popularity of social media food trends (e.g. TikTok's viral baked feta pasta) will continue to be a huge drive of grocery store habits, Instacart predicted.

“Based on the overwhelming growth of social media food trends this past year, we can expect to see even more viral food moments showing up and influencing the way we meal plan, shop for groceries, and cook in the kitchen,”​ said Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s trends expert.

“Social media platforms, including TikTok, make it easy for anyone to share and be inspired by creative cooking. In the New Year, we predict there will be an even greater increase in new recipes and unconventional culinary concepts coming from home chefs everywhere around the world."


According to Instacart’s survey, among those who tried making a social media food trend in 2021, 90% say at least one has made it into their regular cooking rotation, while 11% said more than five social media food trends made it into their regular cooking rotation.

Comfort foods will also take off in 2022, noted Instacart, who found that based on a recent consumer survey 33% of Americans are interested in making social media food trends related to comfort foods.

"In particular, we can expect to see new renditions and variations of our favorite comfort foods, including pastas, stews, and casseroles take off especially as we hunker down for the colder winter months ahead,”​ added Romaniuk.

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