Core natural consumer values hold steady under coronavirus shadow

In-person shopping confidence might be shaky, but shoppers continue to seek high-quality ingredients and transparent sourcing practices when choosing products to buy.

4 Min Read
Shopping in a time of COVID

As the global crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic changes life as we know it—effectively grinding much of it to a halt—some of the most tangible shifts are taking place in the food system: how people buy, what they buy and where they buy it.

With stockpiling leading to shortages of certain items (some more unfathomable than others) and safety concerns top of mind, both brands and retailers have had to scramble to meet consumer needs in these previously unimaginable times.

Consumer purchasing behaviors reflect similar concerns about health and safety and the availability of products. Despite these fears, consumers are still aligning with core values representative of the natural product industry when compared to the results from a similar survey conducted in 2017, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted the week of March 30, 2020, by New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights in collaboration with Suzy.

These insights, in addition to others related to consumer confidence in retail and new purchasing behaviors, are outlined below.

Takeaway: Commitment to values remains.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has not upended consumer behaviors core to the growth of the natural products industry.

American consumers continue to find value in knowing who grew their food and how it was made, as indicated by the fact that more than half of the 1,000 adults surveyed (ages 18-65) during this period still value high-quality ingredients, transparency, natural brands and ingredients and ethical sourcing practices.

And while these numbers reflect a slight decrease compared with 2017, a certain amount of unease is to be expected right now and may be only momentary. For now, it appears that the basis for our industry is strong, although we are only just beginning to monitor the consumer response.  

Takeaway: Confidence in the aisle wanes.

While early shortages caused by consumers stockpiling has settled to some extent, the question of health and safety at the grocery store remains paramount—both for consumers and workers.

To address these concerns, many retailers have implemented a variety of safety measures. Some measures include limiting store occupancy, mandating customers maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from others and establishing early morning hours—when stores are cleanest and most well-stocked—exclusively for the elderly, chronically ill and other vulnerable populations. Other initiatives include curbside pickup, barriers for cashiers, credit-only payments, one-way aisle traffic in stores, requiring the use of non-medical masks by shoppers and employees alike and temperature monitoring for associates and vendors.

To ease product availability concerns, retailers could limit per-person quantities of key staples and keep customers informed about product stock levels. 

Takeaway: Consumers trial retail options.

Amid pandemic, consumers are experimenting with new grocery shopping options.

Whether out of fear, a desire for comfort or to drastically reduce the number of trips to the grocery store, the importance of keeping a well-stocked pantry has led to an explosion in sales for many brands and retailers. It has also resulted in many challenges, some of which are being met with innovative shopping solutions that include expanded delivery, order pickup, and reduced hours for extra disinfection and restocking. At the same time, new retail options are emerging. An increasing number of restaurants and cafés are offering customers the opportunity to buy bulk ingredients along with their takeout orders, while some community-centric eateries are keeping the local food system afloat by offering local products. Another example comes by way of the mobile grocery store (a mashup of food truck, farm and grocery shopping) that is making the rounds in Boulder, Colorado.

Consumers also are adapting to these current food retail challenges by experimenting with or adopting a variety of shopping strategies. Most notably, while the service industry and small businesses are particularly suffering, consumers are showing strong new behaviors in supporting local businesses to meet their grocery needs. With unemployment claims up to about 16 million by April 9, 2020, compassionate consumers are finding ways to help where they can.

Source data:

Takeaway 1 source note: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey of n~1,000 collected week of March 30, 2020, using a convenience sample directionally representative of U.S. consumers ages 18-65. Percentages are based on "top 2 box" answers. New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights 2017 survey data collected based on responses of 1,000 people nationally representative of the U.S. adult population.

Takeaway 2 and 3 source note: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey of n~1,000 collected week of April 6, 2020, using a convenience sample directionally representative of U.S. consumers ages 18-65. Percentages are based on "top 2 box" answers.

About the Author(s)

Adrienne Smith

Content Director, New Hope Network

Amanda Hartt

Researcher | Data Analyst | Strategic Thinker

Amanda brings 10+ years of experience in research and consulting roles, working for both SPINS and New Hope Network to track and grow the natural products industry. With an MS in Food Policy, Amanda looks at the dimensionality of marketplace challenges to grow and transform food systems to build thriving communities.

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