NATIONAL REPORT — In today’s climate, a candy bar or a bag of potato chips is doing more than just satisfying a consumer’s salty or sweet craving. As effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to spill into the crevices of everyday life, Americans are turning to candy and snacks for comfort and escape.
Digital convenience retailer goPuff’s Integrated Data & Consumer Research Practice reported that among the most surprising trends surrounding COVID-19 was how quickly consumers shifted from buying pandemic preparation products to buying lifestyle products.
“While we did see a spike in cleaning, disinfectant and OTC [over-the-counter] products, we also saw orders for energy drinks, school supplies and popcorn spike quickly as Americans were working, studying and entertaining themselves at home 24/7,” Daniel Folkman, vice president of business for goPuff, told Convenience Store News.
GoPuff also saw consumers order items that bring either peace of mind, a sense of comfort, or stability amidst confusion and uncertainty. Among these products were toilet paper, hand sanitizer, baked goods, chocolate, healthy treats, and kombucha.
“Demand for comfort food has spiked since the pandemic started in the U.S., with chips, chocolate and candy all seeing notable rises in sales. Some brands outpaced category growth, showing that a preference for brands was still a driver for what they purchased,” Folkman noted. “That said, we’ve also seen an increase in orders for healthy snacks during the pandemic. Orders for healthy snacks were up 48 percent from March to April of this year.”
Key Areas of Impact
Now more than ever, consumers are facing uncertainty about everyday life, such as the state of the economy and long-term job security; food safety and the origin of products; the adverse effects of COVID-19 restrictions on physical and mental health; and concerns about contracting the virus, as well as the safety of their loved ones.
This is something convenience store retailers need to understand and respond to — be it by offering traditional flavors that remind people of simpler times, or offering experimental flavors that encourage affordable moments of indulgence.
"I think it's fair to say that events of the last couple of months have hit the industry hard and forced a lot of companies to reevaluate their strategies," said Mike Hughes, director of insights for FMCG Gurus, a global market intelligence agency that specializes in consumer, category, packaging and product insight analyses.
Based on a recent FMCG Gurus survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers, the market intelligence firm identified three key areas of impact:
1. The Experience
As the coronavirus creates a scenario whereby consumers are simultaneously concerned about their health and their ability to handle everyday living costs, they will desire moments of non-essential indulgence for escapism reasons. This will be driven by increased feelings of anxiety and stress.
"As consumers trade down on foodservice occasions such as trips to restaurants and bars, they'll be looking to replicate consumption experiences in the comfort of their own home," Hughes explained. "This will drive demand for bulk and shareable products, as well as indulgent and premium products."
According to the survey, 51 percent of consumers say they will trade up on confectionery to compensate for reduced expenditure elsewhere, and 52 percent say they will seek confectionery products suitable for "big nights in."
2. Back to Basics & Risk Avoidance
Consumers will turn to nostalgic products that remind them of the past and simpler times, driving a demand for traditional flavors that offer moments of comfort.
Sixty percent of survey respondents say they will be more likely to seek out confectionery products they know and trust, and 41 percent say they will be more likely to seek out confectionery products that remind them of the past.
3. Maximized & Defined Value
Consumers are willing to shop multiple places to get what they want.
As a result of the stay-at-home orders earlier this year, they’ve already been utilizing multiple channels and showing less value to brand loyalty.
However, they aren't searching for the cheapest price possible; instead, they are focusing on retailers and products that offer the maximum value and meet their need states, according to Hughes.