Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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Since the onset of the pandemic consumer demand has shifted significantly. Fresh food being a part of the essentials never experienced a dearth of demand despite the pandemic shocks and succeeded in serving consumers adequately. However, the consumers’ approach towards fresh food has undergone considerable transformation, states a Deloitte article based on their fresh food consumer survey 2020.

Health and financial crisis brought by the pandemic have ushered new challenges for the fresh food businesses. Consumer buying patterns have been disrupted, certain purchasing trends have accelerated giving rise to new concerns and over all consumer priorities have been recalibrated.

Changes in purchasing behavior

The pandemic has completely altered people’s lifestyles, priorities and eating habits. The Deloitte survey reveals three major change themes:

Sharp drop in shopping trips

54% consumers who took the survey said shopping in stores increased their stress levels and thus post pandemic they shop less frequently. Consumers who shopped multiple times a week earlier, now visit the store only once in two weeks, on average. Due to the perishable nature of fresh food, such a change in consumer behavior is especially challenging and might negatively affect sales.

Change in product purchase

Post pandemic, stores experienced both stocking up and stockouts. The survey found that consumers changed their preferred item of purchase in both the situations. In case of unavailability, 28% consumers replaced the product with a frozen alternative, while 44% replaced the item with alternative fresh food. In some cases, consumers admitted to sticking to the new item as they liked it better. Such drastic shift in product purchasing makes future buying predictions extremely difficult for fresh food stores.

Change in priority

90% consumers said price of an item was a decisive factor in the purchase, same as last year, while 85% consumers said product safety was also of equal importance. Here, safety implies – product hygiene, product packaging, as well as safety of self and workers producing the food.

Renewed consumer personas

The consumer study conducted in 2019 identified three buyer personas in the fresh category, however, the recent study found them irrelevant in the current phase of change. The recent survey uncovered two consumer profiles – Conventional and Contemporary. The conventional consumers constitute 60% of the survey group, and comprise of older people, from rural areas with lower income. They have traditional shopping approach that the industry is familiar with. The contemporary persona, however, presents new challenges.

Exploring the Contemporary Consumer

Constituting 40% of the survey group, contemporary consumers are usually young families, ethnically diverse, urban dwellers and financially better-off. These consumers are responsible for creating “accelerated trends” and disrupting the industry. Since the grouping is rather young, understanding them better will help the fresh food industry unlock future growth.

Contemporary consumers value fresh more. They are ready to pay a premium for a better product. They are also buying more – 50% contemporary consumers as opposed to 27% conventional consumers have increased the volume of their fresh purchase. They also place greater importance to attributes like sustainability, recyclable packaging, local sourcing, water neutrality, less pollution and waste, while buying perishables.

Contemporary consumers prefer buying stress-free and hence are open to use omnichannel for purchasing fresh products. 68% contemporary shoppers place higher trust in the in-store shoppers assigned to them to pick the fresh food items. In case of stockouts, this group of consumers are more likely to pick a different fresh product in the category but demonstrate a higher propensity to switch to replacement purchase.

Given the changes uncovered in the fresh category, industry players must take a few steps to cater to the new needs of consumers. Click through as we delve deeper into the issues facing the industry in this two-part series.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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