More than 40% of consumers say they are changing their fresh produce purchasing because of the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, according to a new survey commissioned by The Packer.

The survey polled more than 1,000 people on March 12 to get a better understanding of how shoppers are adjusting grocery shopping behaviors during the pandemic.

Nearly 20% of people said they are buying less fresh produce now and more frozen fruits and vegetables, and about 12% said they are buying less fresh produce and more canned.

Roughly 14% said they are buying more fresh produce to try and be healthier in case they are exposed to the coronavirus. About 12% are buying more packaged fresh produce and less bulk to ensure that other shoppers hadn’t been touching the product while it was on display — although health officials have said there is no known transmission via food products.

Among consumers who said they are changing their fresh produce purchasing, 50% said they are concerned about people touching the produce on display. Thirty percent of the group said they are concerned about relying on fresh instead of stocking up with frozen because of the uncertainty generated by the coronavirus spread.

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Online grocery

Nearly 70% of survey respondents said they are not using online grocery services more now because of the coronavirus, but 13% said they are doing so, and another 18% said they plan to use either grocery pickup or delivery more because of the pandemic.

Seven percent of the group said their store doesn’t have those options and they plan to switch to another store that does — at least for a while. Another 20% of shoppers said their store does offer grocery pickup and delivery and they plan to use those services more.

Spending in-store and out

Twenty-one percent of shoppers said they are spending more on groceries as more news comes out around the coronavirus, while 11% said they are spending less, and 68% say their grocery spending has not changed.

However, a much larger percentage of the survey respondents plan to make some changes in the amount of food they consume outside the home. Forty-eight percent said they won’t go to restaurants as frequently until the pandemic is over.

Panic factor

Shoppers rated their level of concern about the coronavirus on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not concerned at all,” and 5 being “not leaving my house until this is over.”

Almost 40% of consumers put themselves in the middle. Another roughly 40% listed themselves as leaning one way or the other, 2 or 4. The margins — 1 and 5 — each got 10% of the vote.

Events that have prompted consumers to become more concerned about the coronavirus include the World Health Organization declaring it a pandemic (31%), school closures and event cancellations near them (27%), and the NCAA March Madness getting canceled and NBA season suspended (9%). Comments on the question showed a wide range of other sources of concern, from bans on large gatherings to the federal government’s response to the stock market dropping.

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What retailers can do

Forty percent of survey respondents said they don’t need any communication from their grocery store regarding the coronavirus, but the majority did ask for information.

Thirty-one percent said they want “information about what precautions the company is taking with employees, food handling, any changes with store hours or online services, etc.”

About 28% percent said they’d be open to “information from health authorities, precautions the grocery store is taking to keep people safe, updates on any purchase limits on certain items — pretty much give me all the information you have so I know you’re on top of things.”

For more coronavirus coverage, check out our landing page on the topic here. To contribute to our understanding of how the pandemic is affecting the industry, take this short survey.

 

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