Coronavirus: Consumer demand for staple foods ‘high but stabilising’

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/MinervaStudio
Image: iStock/MinervaStudio

Related tags: Consumer attitudes, COVID-19, Retailers

Market research data illustrates how consumer behaviour has rapidly changed over the course of the pandemic.

Frozen and packaged food purchases continue to increase in Europe as consumers stock their homes with long-lasting foods, according to the latest figures from market researcher IRI. However, the trends from Italy (which IRI puts at around three weeks ahead of the COVID curve in the UK) as well as Germany and France (around 2 weeks earlier) suggest consumer demand is beginning to stabilise, but remains high.

IRI’s data from the week ending 8 March revealed soaring shopper spend in Europe for packaged food products. In Italy, packaged mandarin sales rose over 111% versus the year-ago period. In France, poultry sausage grew nearly 93%. Canned meat sales in the UK rose 72.5%.

Fig 1 March 8, 2020 versus the year-ago period.
Top growing sales categories in the week of 8 March 2020 versus the year-ago period.

The following week (15 March) saw spikes in demand in Italy for brewer’s yeast and ferments (up 189.4% on the same period the year before), flour (up 180.7%) and dried legumes (131.4%). The UK ramped up its purchases of canned meats, growing over 143%, while canned beans and pasta, soup and dry pasta categories all grew over 100%. In France, pasta sales went up over 205%, with cooked pasta, flour, rice and dried vegetables all growing significantly.

fig 2
Top growing sales categories in the week of 15 March 2020 versus the year-ago period.

It was a similar story the following week with brewer’s yeast and ferment continuing to grow in Italy (up 142.4%) and flour sales in France skyrocketing over 250% compared to the same week the previous year. Sales of dried potato products in Germany rose over 202%. Canned meats sales in the UK continued to be popular, rising over 196%, with soup sales up 206%.

fig 3
Top growing sales categories in the week of 22 March 2020 versus the year-ago period.

Fig 3 uk
Top growing sales categories in the UK in the week of 22 March 2020 versus the year-ago period.

Demand for frozen and packaged foods high but stabilising in parts

The data also illustrate that consumer demand for frozen and packaged foods may be plateauing in the countries first hit by COVID. Frozen food sales in Italy, for example, rose 16.2% in the week ending 8 March, then grew over 45% the following week. By the week ending 15 March, consumer spend had dropped to a rise of 36.7%. Similarly, packaged food sales in the period looked at rose 16.3%, 33.85% and then 19.8%. Sales have yet to slow in other parts of the region, however. In the UK, frozen food sales in the three weeks rose 12%, 32.8% and 84.4%. Packaged foods also rose 15.7%, 42% and 69.6% in the period.

fig 4 march 8
Sales in the week ending 8 March
fig 5 march 15
Sales in the week ending 15 March
fig 6 march 22
Sales in the week ending 22 March

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