There’s been a lot of speculation about what our post Covid-19 world will look like, and how our daily lives will change and our businesses might have to adapt.

Long-term, it’s anyone’s guess, and will depend on how quickly the world can rid itself of the virus and how quickly we get our confidence back. But we can already see hints of how the food and grocery sector will look, in the short term at least.

A survey of consumers by the New Zealand arm of global retail research company IRI revealed some interesting data. Nearly half of respondents say they will not change lockdown habits and will continue stockpiling groceries after things settle down, buying enough for two weeks. Some 8% say they will buy for 3-4 weeks, and 2% for even longer than that. Some 34% will make fewer trips to the supermarket, while 16% will keep buying larger product packs. Nearly a quarter say they will continue buying groceries online or via click & collect, or take up subscription-box deliveries.

There’s also a trend emerging around price. In times of economic crisis, people don’t have the income to eat out, and the IRI data shows consumers are already taking more care with expenditure and putting a greater focus on price as it becomes harder to balance household income with expenditure.

It’s the same in overseas markets. Another global research company, Euromonitor International, says grocery buying has significantly changed since the start of the year and will continue for some time.

It’s picking trends in stockpiling, buying for in-home meals, and online shopping will continue for the rest of the year as social distancing continues and financial uncertainties and pressures remain – even though cafes, restaurants and bars will have re-opened in many places. In the longer-term, it sees consumers opting for budget-friendly grocery options while continuing to spend less on eating out. Many will continue to shop online grocery.

This is echoed by Martin Lindstrom, chairman of the global branding and culture transformation Lindstrom Company, in ‘Buyology for a Coronavirus World’, an update on his best-selling book ‘Buyology’.

He says consumer behaviour will change for some time because once people have been fearful of something for a sustained period they move into a mindset where even if things are coming right they’ll stockpile out of concern about what may happen down the track. He says until economies recover, consumers will continue to be frugal by buying cheaper products, including house brands, and taking advantage of discounting.

So it looks like we’re in for a period of change and adjustment in coming months, or even longer.

But that’s nothing new to suppliers, supply chain, merchandisers, supermarkets and shops, as the past eight or so weeks have shown.

Everyone was impacted as demand reached a peak. Some were caught short, but others dusted off their pandemic plans and dealt with the sudden rush. Plenty of heroes emerged, from the field and the factory to the shop floor, and their work in keeping the shelves stocked has been acknowledged.

Not so obvious are FGC members who have been involved in the search for a vaccine or an antiviral drug to stop us from contracting Covid-19 or lessen its impact for those who do contract it.

I’m thinking of Sanofi NZ, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies with long histories of work in this area, and which are collaborating in some way with companies and research groups across the world on finding solutions.

So far, the most optimistic projections put success between the end of this year and the second half of next year, which would be significantly faster than the normal timeline for vaccine development.

While we’re all making sure the shop shelves are filled, we’ll also have our fingers crossed and half an eye on what these companies are doing.

(originally published in FMCG Business magazine)

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