Most people are very habitual in their food choices. We have a small repertoire of options for our meals, which we constantly recycle, with only occasional changes.
Covid is a societal delta moment. Millions of people are in changed circumstances that are prompting changes in their meal environments, needs and behaviours. That means this is good time for food companies to market products and meal ideas. The audience is much more receptive to change than usual.
So what are the big changes we are seeing in food behaviour post-Covid and how can companies take advantage?
The key dynamic is more eating at home, especially for people of working age. Fewer people will have jobs. And more of those who do have jobs will be working from home.
First, more weekday lunches at home. Historically, this has been a low-value, low-interest occasion. A quick sandwich, beans on toast or whatever’s left over in the fridge. But consumers miss the excitement and colour of food on the go, so companies can add value with something more vibrant. It must be super easy to prepare and clean up. There has been good innovation in ambient (eg John West, Batchelors) but the chilled aisles could do more to serve this occasion.
Second, more weekday snacking at home and particularly healthier snacking. Those at home may be more sedentary and thus more conscious of calories. And many will be more controlled in their purchasing (snacks bought from a supermarket for the week ahead, not snacks bought to eat now, when the shopper is hungry and less resistant to the temptation of chocolate and crisps).
Third, treat meals at the weekend. We will continue to eat out less. Some of us will switch to Deliveroo, but plenty will look to grocery stores to fill the gap. This is an opportunity for “night off the cooking” such as M&S Dine In for £12 or the Tesco £10 Pizza Meal Deal. But it is also an opportunity to help shoppers with “effort meals” when they challenge themselves to cook something a bit more involved, as many did in lockdown. Cooking brands and products have been in strong growth throughout the crisis.
The highest-value food occasion is still the weekday evening meal at home. It can’t grow as fast because most of these meals were at home already. But it will always be critical for categories like meat, fish, vegetables and prepared meals. Getting into that limited repertoire of meals, then staying there, is the key to success.
So social change brings food change. Food change brings growth opportunities. Weekday lunch and healthier snacking. Treat meals at the weekend. And the weekday evening meal remains key.