What May’s grocery spend tells us about the ‘new normal’ | Comment & Opinion

The ‘new normal’. It’s arguably the most grating phrase to come out of the pandemic – and definitely the most overused. But as lockdown restrictions lift for what we hope is the final time, we’re finally starting to glimpse exactly what it might look like.

Consumers haven’t simply reverted to pre-Covid habits with the reopening of indoor hospitality, the latest NielsenIQ till roll data shows. Yes, the long-anticipated reopening of pubs and restaurants did have an impact on grocery sales, which fell 6.7% in the week ending 22 May. However, the crucial point is this: they are still up 11% on this time in 2019, which Nielsen says reflects “entrenched behaviour changes”.

It’s essentially what industry leaders have been saying since the start of the pandemic. An upheaval of this magnitude, for this sustained period of time, is bound to result in some new habits. There are plenty of reasons why grocery spend might be higher than before Covid. Some consumers may have discovered what they can whip up themselves, rather than splashing out on hospitality. Others might be feeling the pinch as the financial fallout of Covid hits home. Either way, it suggests grocery volumes are unlikely to return to 2019 levels this year, whatever happens with the Indian variant.

The same goes for online grocery. Forecasts of a permanent switch in behaviour appear to be coming to pass. In the past four weeks, 28% of UK households have shopped online, NielsenIQ data shows – the same figure as a year ago. That’s despite shoppers feeling more comfortable in returning to physical stores, as illustrated by the more frequent visits and decline in basket size.

Of course, some behaviour is returning more to the ‘old normal’. As socialising returns, spend on personal care – one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic – has surged 16.2%. There has also been a resurgence of categories that shoppers have avoided amid hygiene concerns, such as delicatessen and bakery, up 18.6% and 10.8% respectively.

Meanwhile, categories that enjoyed a boom in the stockpiling period are facing some tough comparables – most notably frozen food, down 14.9%. Beers wines & spirits sales have also fallen 6.7% as the pub trade resumes.

If nothing else, the figures are an interesting snapshot of how consumers are reacting to the lifting of the third national lockdown. But they could also point to a far more long-standing trend: the real ‘new normal’. 

Source: www.thegrocer.co.uk

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