Shopping more, spending more: how COVID-19 is changing our grocery habits

The pandemic-fueled public health and economic crisis has refocused attention on people’s basic needs. News and social media feature alarming stories about a rush on grocery stores, and fears of anti-social hoarding behaviour.

That’s why Argyle’s national agribusiness team wanted to find out more: How has COVID-19 changed the in-store grocery-buying habits of our families, neighbours and friends across Canada?

On March 19, we surveyed our friends, families and connections through our social channels – and quickly received more than 340 responses. Though the results are informal, we gained key insights into consumer behaviour.

The highlights:

  • Understandably, respondents are stockpiling and spending more than normal – sometimes a lot more – at grocery stores.
  • Bigger stockpiles don’t mean people are staying away from stores: 60 percent plan to grocery shop again in the next week, and 74 percent surveyed plan to spend the same amount or more on their next trip.
  • Most respondents purchased fresh foods, frozen and shelf-stable goods (dried and canned foods).
  • Many wished they had purchased even more paper products, frozen and canned goods, fresh produce and cleaning supplies – directly influenced by seeing or hearing media reports or social conversation about shortages in stores.

Let’s dig into the details.

Respondents spent more at the grocery store in the past two weeks
Two-thirds (68%) of the respondents spent more at the grocery store than normal, with a quarter (24%) spending an extra $100 or more at the store. Just 30 percent spent their regular amount on groceries.

Grocery shopping not likely to slow down in the near term
It doesn’t appear that consumers will stop going to the grocery store. On the contrary: 60 percent indicated they plan to go grocery shopping in the next week, according to a survey released by Leger in partnership with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS), on March 23, 2020. Plus, it looks like shoppers will spend at least as much or more during their next grocery trip, according to our informal survey.

Buyer habits and purchase satisfaction
We wanted a sense of what consumers were purchasing, and also, to understand whether they were satisfied with their purchases.

Fresh foods filled most baskets, including dairy, eggs, cheese, produce and fresh meat and seafood. Not surprisingly, popular items included canned and frozen goods, and dried pastas and grains.

About one in four surveyed shoppers wished they had purchased more paper products (27%), and frozen foods (25%), while one in five wanted more produce (21%), cleaning supplies (21%), and canned goods (20%).

Finally, we wanted a sense of what is influencing grocery shopping habits. A third of respondents were influenced by seeing and hearing about in-store shortages and nearly the same number (31%) were influenced by their friends and family and by media coverage.

The majority are still buying just for their households
Three quarters (73%) of respondents noted their purchases were just for themselves or their families, though some were buying supplies for family that don’t live with them (14%), and some for neighbours and friends (12%).

We recognize grocery shopping habits in Canada will continue to change depending on federal, provincial and municipal directives related to COVID-19. For now, consumers continue to shop in store, and demand appears steady.

For more information please contact Argyle’s AIT team.

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