Surveys reveal a pattern in how consumers are grocery shopping, but that pattern indicates an acceleration of trends that have already been underway.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

April 8, 2021

4 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, March 12, 2021

A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this feature, New Hope Network provides that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.


Whether the last year feels like most of a century or just one day seamlessly blurring into the next, all of us have had some time to adjust to the pandemic. And then readjust.

And then readjust again.

Looking at how consumers have found ways to consume, that pattern at first glance appears obvious. We surveyed consumers a year ago, during the first weeks of the pandemic, and then again in November to see how they were adjusting to the lockdown lifestyle, charting changes in habits from the initial panic to the glowing gloom of late fall and winter. We repeated the research in a survey conducted this week. And what we're seeing is a kind of “return to the norm,” without the norm part.

Or perhaps what we are seeing is a return to a new normal.

Across all shopping modes, people said they were doing more of every kind of shopping in the November survey compared to the year before than they said in April 2020. But the results are very similar between last April and the new research this week. There could easily be a seasonal swing seen in most any year—Thanksgiving sends a lot of us to the store, after all—but it’s difficult to believe that the similarities between the first weeks of the pandemic and what we see now don’t tell us something about the effect of COVID-19 on grocery shopping.

Or maybe how small that effect has been.

Consumers were asked what they were doing more of in the past two weeks, compared to a year before. That nearly the same percentages of consumers now and a year ago say they are ordering groceries for curbside pickup more often, having groceries delivered more often and ordering groceries online more often, could mean that the rush to e-commerce the natural products industry ascribed to lockdown panic might be less panic-driven than it looked.

A year ago, 32% of consumers said they were ordering groceries online more than they had a year before. This week, it was 30%. That looks more like a continuing evolution than the sudden lurching change it felt like a year ago. The data is limited and doesn’t dictate that storyline, but it makes it worth considering.

Breaking consumers down by type is most interesting when the differences are most pronounced. Natural channel shoppers may simply have more money and be able to shop more, but the ways they consume are worth noting.

The percentage of natural channel shoppers who said they are ordering groceries for curbside pickup was more than double the percentage of conventional shoppers who said the same. But the percentage of natural shoppers ordering groceries delivered from a local business is more than three times larger. A similar ratio was evident for buying groceries directly from a brand’s website.

Again, having more money likely means a consumer can find more ways to spend it, but it’s worth noting that natural channel shoppers could also be more open to different ways of buying groceries. It could mean the concept of omnichannel or multi-channel marketing is more important for brands that are chasing natural channel shoppers.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure dramatic shifts in consumer behaviors as we march through COVID-19 that is compared to a 2017 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. These indexes are assessed through monthly surveys of how consumers perceive their shopping behaviors.

The natural products industry investment index measures dramatic shifts in investment activity as we march through COVID-19, compared to a 2019 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. Nutrition Capital Network monitors monthly financial activity in the natural products industry.

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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