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American Eating Patterns See Major Shift During Pandemic

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CHICAGO — When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge in the United States in March, it marked a sudden disruption to the daily rhythms and eating patterns of consumers. Since then, all types of dining occasions have continued to be affected, according to The NPD Group's annual Eating Patterns in America report.

"With mandated shelter-at-home and restaurant dine-in restrictions across most of the country during the pandemic, we have had few options other than to prepare most of our meals at home," said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of the report. "Working from home, schooling at home, and preparing more meals means more of our meal times are a departure from the norm, with most consumers describing their meals as atypical."

Prior to the pandemic, 80 percent of meals were sourced from home and 20 percent were sourced from restaurants and other foodservice outlets. Currently, as much as 87 percent of meals are now sourced from home.

Consumers are also embracing the use of online and digital orders for both groceries. By May, 40 percent of shoppers ordered edible groceries online vs. 28 percent of shoppers in May 2019. They also more than tripled their share of restaurant meals ordered digitally during the second quarter of the year. Digital restaurant carryout made up the larger share of restaurant digital orders, according to NPD.

Consumers also re-prioritized their health and wellness needs, with managing stress levels and maintaining a healthy home environment growing as focus areas. Work/life balance and quality sleep declined as top health needs. To help them cope with stress, consumers turned to more comfort foods.

Visits to full-service restaurants that primarily function as on-premise operations declined by nearly 80 percent during the height of mandated dine-in closures. Quick-service restaurants also saw double-digit declines, but fared better due to already being set up for drive-thru, carryout and delivery.

"To sum it up, I couldn't have imagined when we released last year's Eating Patterns in America that this year's report would be telling the story it is, America's eating patterns abruptly interrupted," Portalatin said. "What a year it will be moving forward as we evolve our perspective and the effects of a global pandemic that has caused such tumultuous change. It is my profound hope that next year when we're compiling the 36th annual Eating Patterns in America, we're telling the story of recovery."

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