New eating habits in Covid-19 era. EIT Food survey in 10 EU countries

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Eating habits in the Covid-19 era have definitely changed. The survey conducted by EIT Food, in September 2020, among 5 thousand consumers in 10 EU countries.

More ecommerce in new eating habits

The use of food ecommerce has increased across the board. Lockdowns and curtailment measures – resulting in queues at supermarkets – prompted 45 percent of respondents, on average, to turn to the web. As many as 60 percent of respondents, in Greece.

The share of consumers converted to online shopping is inversely proportional to age group. 41% among the young (18-35 years old), 33% in middle age (36-55), 24% of the over-55s. The favored choice is shopping with home delivery (+41%), followed by online ordering with in-store pickup (+32%).

The flaws in theonline

Foodecommerce in Italy went haywire following a surge in orders, during the first lockdown. Having passed the critical phase, some operators (e.g., easycoop, everli,) have therefore upgraded digital infrastructure.

However, violations of consumer information duties and other deceptive practices persist, as we have repeatedly reported to the relevant authorities.

Planned purchases

Organized food shopping has dampened the typical impulsiveness of the store visit (-28% on average, -40% in Greece). In fact, 45 percent of consumers surveyed, 53 percent in Spain, say they make planned and rationalized purchases.

In contrast, 23% of respondents increased unweighted spending. A mode more pronounced in Romania (39 percent).

Incomes in vertical decline

The economic inequality gap widened further during the pandemic. Shopkeepers and artisans forced to close down, precarious or self-employed or undocumented workers, in each case lacking protections. More than a third of consumers (34 percent) say they have lost some or all of their income. More than half admit the difficulty of making ends meet.

Income compression is also inevitably reflected in food consumption. According to the survey, 29% of consumers (35% in Spain) are increasingly price-conscious and are turning to cheaper foods and brands. The most expensive products remain on the shelf in more than 30 percent of cases, especially in Spain, Poland and Greece. Bucking the trend were 15 percent of respondents, French in the lead. And again, 22% purchased ‘unknown’ minor brands more often. Conversely, 18% increased their purchase of well-known brands.

The most sought-after foods

Food spending has increased overall, as snacks and lunches during work breaks-as well as convivial aperitifs and dinners-have been almost eliminated and replaced by domestic consumption.

Next are the fluctuations in consumption of the various food categories during the first phase of the pandemic. The list shows the shares of consumers reporting increased or decreased consumption of each food category, respectively):

– fruits and vegetables, +32%, -9%,

– vegetables and legumes, +27%, -8%,

– flour, +27%, -9%. In Italy, almost half of consumers (49%) used more than usual,

– dairy products, +24%, -6%. In Spain, 33% of respondents consumed more,

– chocolate and sweets +28%, -13%,

– chips and snacks +28%, -16%,

– poultry, +21%, -10%,

– fish +19%, -15%. However, there is evidence of a major contraction in consumption, perhaps related to high prices,

– meat +19%, -15%. Higher consumption in France and Germany.

Alcohol and convenience foods in decline

Alcohol shows an overall decline in consumption. 24% of respondents reported consuming less alcoholic beverages, 20% more. Increasing consumption in the UK, Finland and Sweden, and in the 18-35 age group in general.

Overall drop in consumption also for convenience foods, as previously reported by the Coop Report. Overall, 26% of consumers reduced them, while 22% increased them. The figure is quite polarized. In Greece, 46% of respondents reduced them (compared to 21% who bought more than before) while consumption increased in the UK, Finland, Germany, and Romania.

Overall quality

Among the new consumer-reported food habits is growing attention to the way food is packaged and the information on the package regarding hygiene, freshness, additives, and sustainability. In summary, it emerges:

– privilege toward prepackaged products because of concerns about hygiene. 33% up from 14% down (peaking in Romania 49% vs. 11%),

– less pronounced search (in comparison with the desire for protective packaging) for food products in bulk or packaged in biodegradable/recyclable packaging. 29% more versus 15% less,

– More attention to food freshness and durability expiration date or TMC. 36% more vs. 9% less (Spain +46% vs. -5%),

– Increased tendency to avoid products with artificial additives and preservatives (
clean label
). 34% more vs 12% less (Romania +47% vs -14%).

The lockdown cooks

Forced to spend more time at home, all countries are seeing a significant increase in people experimenting with home cooking with more regular meals.

The following trends emerge:

– Time spent on cooking has increased everywhere. Thirty-six percent of respondents were more dedicated to cooking, compared with 13 percent who reduced their frequency. The new passion is strongest in the 18-35 age group, +43%, although 17% said otherwise. (36-55 years 39% vs 12%; 55+ 29% vs 12%).

– the pleasure of cooking, other than the mere duty of preparing meals, emerges from the amount of people who experimented with new recipes: 39 percent, compared with 11 percent who did so less. Domestic chefs live mainly in Spain, Italy and Greece. Less so in Sweden and Germany.

– fewer snacks and more meals at set times everywhere (except in the UK), according to 30% of the sample. Opposite trend for younger people (18-35 years), of whom 30% increased snacking over set meals (vs. 25% less),

– consumers believe that eating has become a more important part of their social lives (overall 29 percent agree, while 17 percent think the opposite).

Focus Italy

‘Italy had a long lockdown and 63% of consumers report struggling financially during the pandemic, with 80% having more time than usual. Overall we see big behavior shifts, including some of the largest rises in online shopping, planning and bulk buying, as well as checking prices and use by dates and avoiding additives.
Italian consumers report the second largest rise in vegetable consumption and the largest in flour (49% using more), plus a strong decrease in buying expensive foods but also the biggest increase in buying brands. Italy is in the top three for more time cooking and dining together, with over half trying new recipes and the biggest drop in ready meals’ (EIT-Food, Pandemic impacts on consumer food behavior).

Smoke signals to the food supply chain

The survey confirms some of the trends that have already emerged in Italy in the Coop 2020 report, with a more pronounced and widespread focus (60 percent) on saving. Respondents also state the idea of consolidating some of the new eating habits acquired in the first phase of the pandemic. Thus:

– 32 percent of consumers say it is a priority to access food at ‘low enough’ prices,

– 30% think it is important to vary their diet,

– 28% consider it necessary to spend as little as possible on food,

– 27% trust that they will have time to cook meals even after the pandemic,

– 21 percent believe the availability of products that are quick and easy to prepare is useful.

Spending less to eat better

Saving money is a goal to be combined with healthy diets, according to consumer desires. Who express themselves as follows:

– 35% consider it more important to buy food from short supply chain,

– 34%) say that a healthy diet will be more important after the pandemic,

– 29% intend to avoid food additives and preservatives,

– 29% plan to focus more on weight control through food choices,

– 24 percent (35 percent in Italy) believe in the usefulness of good nutrition knowledge,

– 28 percent increased their purchase of unpackaged products or products with biodegradable/recyclable packaging.

Insights

EIT Food’s report on the new eating habits of Europeans is available at this link.

To further explore supply chain scenarios, trends and opportunities, please refer to theebook ‘Covid-19, the ABCs. Volume II – Society‘.

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".