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Has COVID-19 Changed Our Shopping Habits Forever?

AUCKLAND, 22 September 2021: Grocery shopping trends over the past few years have focused on the latest ‘superfood’ or diet and lifestyle craze, but this year research commissioned by United Fresh shows the significant impact that COVID-19 is having in supermarket aisles around Aotearoa.

Empty shelves, food shortages, masks and socially distanced queues make the weekly shop seem like something from a sci-fi film compared to the ‘old normal’ before the pandemic, and the Nielsen IQ study completed in June this year showed just how far we have shifted from the carefree days before COVID.

Online is easier

In 2019, less than 10 percent of Kiwis shopped for their groceries online. Over the last year to June 2021, 34 percent of New Zealand households shopped for groceries online with supermarkets seeing a 44 percent increase in online sales. Almost three-quarters of this growth has come from shoppers new to the online experience.

Shoppers keen to avoid the pandemic-related stress of shopping in person have embraced the opportunity to shop from their home with the research finding the average Kiwi household shops online 11 times a year, spending a total of $1800 per year with an average of $162 per shop.

Shopping with the senses

While we’ve converted quickly to online shopping, the research shows New Zealanders still prefer to shop in person for our 5+ A Day; for every 10 online purchases of fresh produce, there are 77 made in store. Despite this gap, online fruit and vegetable sales are still the fastest growing food category and shoppers spend over 40 percent more on their fruit and vegetables when they’re buying online rather than in store.

Although it seems counter-intuitive to the COVID message of touching as little as possible and staying masked-up, the ability to use the senses to select items of produce remains important for shoppers.

Buy more, shop less

In the face of the strange new shopping experience, New Zealanders are continuing to shop less frequently and are spending more with each shop. Comparing the second quarter of 2021 to the rolling two-year average, shoppers visited the supermarket six percent less often and spent six percent more with each shop.

The average value of a shopper’s trip to the supermarket is higher when they are purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables. Immunity-boosting fruit and vegetables are an important item on the shopping list, with over half of all trips to the grocery store contain at least one fruit and vegetable item.

Fresh produce also accounts for a big part of the shopping budget with the average spend of a shopping trip totalling two and a half times higher when fresh fruit and vegetables are in the basket, compared to when they are not.

Getting used to staying in

By June this year, 62 percent of the Kiwi shoppers surveyed felt financially constrained, with about a third of those in difficulty due to the pandemic. As a result, almost 24 percent of New Zealanders are cooking at home more often with many noting that cooking at home is cheaper, tastier, and healthier than eating out.

This group of shoppers is expected to grow in size in the wake of the Delta lockdown as food insecurity reaches even greater levels across the country.

Own brands gaining ground

As newly financially constrained shoppers look to save money during their shop, supermarket own brands continue to increase in popularity. The June survey found 18 percent of shoppers were choosing to buy more own brand products. Around 83 percent of shoppers surveyed believed supermarket own brands are just as good or better than branded goods, whilst 70 percent believed they were cheaper.

Meal kits mania

With consumers looking to save time and avoid going out to eat, there has been a steady increase in the number of shoppers opting for pre-prepared food boxes and meal kits. Over a quarter of New Zealand households engaged in meal kits and food boxes within the last year, with sixty percent of these purchases happening due to COVID-19.

Not having to think about meal cooking and preparation, less time at the supermarket, easy recipes, and less food waste make food boxes an attractive option for many families.

Kids getting their 5+ A Day

While shoppers over the age of 55 buy immunity-boosting fresh produce the most often, households with children spend 12 percent more on fruit and vegetables in a year compared to the average New Zealand household.

Young families also have the highest proportion of grocery shopping trips that contain at least one fresh fruit or vegetable item in their basket too with parents buying items of fresh produce in about 60 percent of their trips to the supermarket.

Change is here to stay

Only 30 percent of those surveyed in June said that their shopping habits had remained unchanged in the wake of COVID-19. With the arrival of Delta throwing the country’s economy into another spin, it is likely that the number of New Zealanders facing financial constraints will rise even further, leading to more and more seeking out instore promotions and cheaper options.

Whether we ever return to the ‘old normal’ looks unlikely as these substantial behaviour changes become ingrained habits. Even those New Zealanders who have not been financially affected are adjusting old patterns, seeking out organic and healthier options and selecting shopping channels which offer the opportunity to shop from home.

© Scoop Media

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