Instacart Data Indicates Proof Is in the Pudding

Instacart Inside the Shopper

Photograph courtesy of Instacart

As U.S. COVID-19 case counts rise nationwide once again, and growing attention on the Delta variant reaches fever pitch, online grocery platform Instacart is examining the impact of swaying consumer shopping behavior across its marketplace. 

While sales of certain pandemic must-haves, including masks, disinfectant sprays and hand sanitizer have increased recently (though with strong regional differences), Instacart’s “Pudding Pack Index,” a data-backed grocery barometer, shows America is pumping the brakes on a full return to grocery shopping normalcy.

To assess where U.S. grocery shoppers are in the pandemic spectrum, San Francisco-based Instacart uses its Pudding Pack Index—an index for normalcy through the lens of groceries that examines quintessential kids’ lunchbox items such as pudding packs, granola bars and fruit snacks—in an effort to examine the “single strongest indicator” that America is on the move again in Instacart’s grocery catalog. Through its analysis, Instacart has found that no other categories of groceries have proven to be so closely tied to normalcy.

Since March, when vaccines started to be widely rolled out, the Pudding Pack Index has moved approximately 4% closer to the pre-pandemic normal level of packed lunch items on average every month, the company said. In July, that growth has slowed and is trending to only get 2% closer to normal levels.

“Instacart stands ready to serve as a dependable way to safely meet consumers’ essential needs for their families and a partner for neighborhoods during what may continue to be an ambiguous time,” said Instacart Chief Operating Officer Asha Sharma in a statement.

Home on the Rangetop

As the delta variant thwarts a return to normalcy in certain parts of the country, Sharma is keeping a watchful eye on trends.

“We’re starting to see noticeable shifts in consumer purchase patterns across the Instacart marketplace,” noted Sharma. “While we don’t anticipate seeing a return to early COVID-era behaviors like extreme pantry loading, we won’t be surprised to see consumers start restocking their pantries in preparation for more time at home and increased safety measures if COVID-19 cases continue to rise and local communities start to pull back on reopening plans.”

Instacart reports its mask sales are up 37% over the past three weeks, but with dramatic differences across the country. Mask sales via Instacart had been consistently dropping since their peak on April 11, but on July 7, started slowly rising again. Mask sales vary dramatically across the country, with most western states buying more masks over the past six weeks vs. most of the rest of the country, which continues to see dramatic decreases in mask sales, the company said.

When it comes to the top states purchasing masks, Hawaii (+807%), Alaska (+170%), Washington (+114%) and California (+98%) buy more masks than the national average. 

Top states going without masks include: Dakota (-90%), South Carolina (-83%), Rhode Island (-80%) and North Carolina (-68%). These states are buying the least masks over the past six weeks compared to the national average. 

Instacart further finds that in the past week, consumer purchases of key COVID-era health and wellness products were the same:

  • Disinfectant sprays (+20%)
  • Disinfecting wipes (+18%)
  • Hand sanitizer (+15%)
  • Cold and flu medicine (+15%)
  • Children’s pain and fever reliever (+12%)



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