(Charts courtesy Category Partners)

A new survey by Category Partners indicates shoppers have been adjusting their trip frequency, basket size and packaging preferences due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“The consumer response strongly confirms what we’ve been seeing in the syndicated supermarket scan data,” Steve Lutz, senior vice president of insights and innovation for Category Partners said in a news release. “Food purchase behavior to date has been linked to pantry loading and perceptions of food durability and storability. Across the board, consumers report their largest purchase increases have been in center-store food products and frozen foods.

“But that’s just the beginning because about 40% of consumers say they have also increased purchases of meat, produce and deli items, with about a third of consumers reporting they have increased usage of online food ordering,” Lutz said.

Category Partners

Senior vice president of research Cara Ammon noted in the release that shoppers under 35 were much more likely to report increased stock-up trips, increased purchasing of packaged fresh foods, and increased purchasing of larger packages.

“Obviously concern with coronavirus is high among all age segments, but the reported shifts in shopping trips and altered food purchase behavior was substantially higher among younger shoppers,” Ammon said in the release. “And of course, younger people report much higher use of online food shopping while older consumers are more likely to have not (embraced) this technology even when facing the quarantine.”

African-Americans and Hispanics were also more likely to have adjusted their purchasing behaviors, Ammon said.

Lutz noted in the release that the changes being reported now are more likely to be sustainable than the extreme stock-up buying that happened in mid-March.

“Scan data in early March showed consumers were literally buying everything across the total store,” Lutz said in the release. “Now that we have four weeks of data we can see that by the end of March, purchase patterns had largely shifted again, away from much of the pantry loading-type behavior.”

Produce sales grew again for the week ending March 28, the most recent available data, but the growth was much less dramatic than the two previous weeks.

Lutz observed in a recent interview that one factor that hasn’t yet been fully accounted for in data is the economic impact of the efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

As many restaurants have closed except for takeout and delivery, as schools have closed, and as non-essential businesses have shuttered, many people have lost their jobs. How that will affect fresh produce sales remains to be seen. The survey by Category Partners, however, showed that some purchasing changes due to changes in job status are already happening.

“20% of survey respondents aged 25-44 years old said they have changed their food shopping behavior because of a furlough or lost job,” Ammon said in the release. “That’s a remarkable finding and doesn’t mean these people are completely out of work as they may just be experiencing reduced hours. But it does indicate that chapter two of this virus will be the economic impacts that we are just now beginning to see at retail.”

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