A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, people are still cooking and baking at historic levels, and while supermarkets have experienced strong sales in most categories, the dairy department has been a shining star.
Dairy has always been a consistent staple in the grocery business, but because of the pandemic and the resulting increase in cooking, baking and eating at home, the need for these products increased exponentially. Traditional milk and cream, butter, packaged cheese and yogurt are among the highest-turning items in the store as they provide great value and versatility for feeding families.
Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, headquartered in Melville, New York, with eight locations throughout New York and one in New Jersey, has seen a significant increase in the dairy category as a whole and has added staff to the department at most stores to keep the dairy cases full.
“Dairy share of total business has grown 1.2% from the beginning of the pandemic through the end of 2020, with very strong year-over-year results,” said Andrew Wasserman, director of center store. “As individuals and families have spent more time at home, the essential cooking and baking items have experienced a significant sales increase. Some of the largest-growing categories were butter, milk, eggs/egg substitutes, refrigerated coffee and creamers, as well as refrigerated dough.”
He notes that many of the popular trends pre-pandemic had been centered around “on-the-go” and convenience packages but with many people working from home and consuming more meals at home, this seemed to have caused a shift back to many of the more traditional items.
“Some of the growth categories such as iced coffee and creamers were a result of both new item innovation as well a shift in consumption from coffee shops and convenience locations, back to the home,” Wasserman said.
Braum’s Fresh Market, headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, features dairy-heavy grocery stores due to the company’s affiliation with the Braum Ice Cream and Dairy restaurant chain and its dairy farms.
“Our fresh market sales, especially dairy products, have increased significantly—nearly doubling in the last year,” said Amanda Beuchaw, public relations director for the company. “Based on what we have witnessed, people are cooking more than ever and dairy items are often staples in recipes. We believe it will remain pretty strong throughout 2021.”
At Food Lion, the Salisbury, North Carolina, grocery chain owned by Ahold Delhaize USA that operates more than 1,000 supermarkets in 10 states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, dairy sales have reached historic levels at most stores.
Mike Parkinson, Food Lion category analyst, confirmed that dairy has performed strongly during the pandemic as lifestyle shifts drove customers to consume higher quantities of their usual dairy purchases.
“We saw more people interested in trying out new items they may not have considered before as well,” he said. “It’s not just the traditional dairy items selling well. The whole department is seeing a surge.”
While dairy has long been seen as an area that doesn’t need to rely on marketing as much as some other segments, many supermarkets have renewed efforts to promote and market core items that shoppers are looking for on a regular basis, while also highlighting new alternatives merchandised in the dairy case.
“We continue to focus on some of the growth trends such as plant-based and non-dairy alternatives in categories such as cheese, beverages and creamers,” Wasserman of Uncle Giuseppe’s said. “We want to ensure that we have a nice mix of staple products that customers know and trust as well as innovative new brands and better-for-you products.”
Food Lion works to drive awareness of the dairy department’s assortment and how its variety of offerings meet most dietary needs. This has been promoted at the store, on social media and in circulars and other reading materials that get in the hands of consumers.
Looking beyond COVID-19
Even with vaccines being rolled out and restaurants and businesses reopening, expectations are that people will continue to cook and bake at home in great numbers for the foreseeable future, with retailers expecting these dairy sales trends to continue.
“The shopping habits that have been created will likely remain, especially as people have grown more accustomed to spending more time and enjoying more meals at home,” Wasserman said. “While the initial spike in volume from the beginning of the pandemic will not be there this year, the sustained growth that these categories have experienced will remain.”
Even with things beginning to get on the road to normal, Food Lion is continuing to operate as if the increased dairy demand will continue, with Parkinson noting things haven’t slowed down yet and may even be changed for the long term.
“Life is different now. For that reason, we believe that dairy will continue to remain strong this year as many of our neighbors’ lifestyles have changed,” he said. “Consumers have experienced our increased dairy assortment and have seen that they can fulfill their dairy needs and get everything they need to nourish their families by shopping here.”
This piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.