The coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly changed food consumption habits in the U.S. for the better part of the past year. Now, as conditions gradually improve, the question remains: How many of those trends have become permanently ingrained in the daily consumption patterns of Americans and which ones will dissipate as people go back to their pre-COVID-19 routines?
Not surprisingly, with restaurants, sporting events, concerts and other events closed or operating at a fraction of their usual capacity, people have spent more time cooking at home. At the same time, employees who abandoned the office to work from home are no longer grabbing a cup of coffee with colleagues or going out to lunch. Instead, the brew comes from their own coffee machine — one they may have purchased during the pandemic — or lunch may be a meal they made in their kitchen.
“The pandemic brought quick and unexpected change to both food and beverage companies and consumers, which has forever altered how and what people eat,” Steve Presley, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, said in a statement. “While we anticipate more people will return to eating out as restrictions ease, the new insights in this research confirm our belief that many of the at-home habits consumers adopted are here to stay.”
For Nestlé, its portfolio of brands in frozen and coffee would be major beneficiaries if these trends remained in place. It already has a sweeping frozen line with Tombstone pizza, Lean Cuisine frozen meals and Sweet Earth plant-based burritos and entrees. In coffee, Nestlé has its home Nespresso platform, Nescafe instant coffee, Coffee-mate creamer, and it smartly doubled down on the category a few years ago by acquiring a stake in popular coffee shop chain Blue Bottle and snapping up Chameleon Cold-Brew.
The Nestlé-sponsored study noted millennials are more likely than Gen Z, Gen X and baby boomers to embrace some of these newfound trends, such as having their first cup of joe at home or eating a frozen meal at their desk. The study said “this appears to counter notions that millennials overspend on dining out.” Nestlé could use this information to help it further target millennials while doing more to attract other demographics through marketing and product innovation.
The findings from Nestlé add further support to the assertion that many trends that gained momentum during the pandemic will stick around in some form.
In January, a survey by market research firm Hunter found 71% of consumers said they will continue to cook more after the pandemic ends.
Ashley Lind, director of demand sciences at Conagra Brands, told Food Dive that certain shifts in eating habits, including more frequently consuming breakfast at home, have staying power. She said people have invested in their kitchens during the pandemic, buying small appliances such as waffle makers and single-serve brewing machines they will want to continue to use.
Other trends that could benefit include the purchase of alcohol through e-commerce, eating healthier, snacking, consuming plant-based foods and baking. Nestlé noted that even when it’s safe to return to normal, 69% of respondents are planning to bake at the same rate they are now, and 65% are expected to continue cooking from scratch. Companies with a meaningful presence in many of these categories could continue to benefit compared to pre-pandemic levels even as people get back to a more normal way of life.