Since we were babies, food has been a way to celebrate the good and comfort the bad. During these unprecedented times, it’s no surprise that the current COVID-19 crisis has led to a change in our eating habits. With most of America under “stay at home” orders, a rising 6.6 million Americans unemployed and a global pandemic in full swing, our cravings for, interactions with and access to food is now very different.

On the home front, parents are looking for ways to keep their kids entertained and nourished 24/7 now that schools and daycares are closed indefinitely. From Tastewise’s Home Cooking Trends (April 2020), looks like getting adventurous in the kitchen is one way to keep the kids entertained. In fact, instances of parents cooking with kids has increased 38% in the past few weeks alone.

 How else has the quarantine impacted our eating habits?

  • Since the onset of COVID-19, baking “from scratch” at home has increased 42% – which is no surprise to see that bread making machines are up 652% (Mar ‘20 vs Mar ‘19) and is the #2 fastest growing e-commerce category (Stackline Top 100 Fastest Growing & Declining Categories in E-Commerce). If you’re curious – toilet paper ranks #24 on that list, only a 190% increase YoY.
  • Healthful preparation methods are up in popularity – baked is up 15% YoY and slow-cooked is up 62% (Tastewises Home Cooking Trends April 2020)
  • Increased consumer interest (+76%) in comfort food for kids, but with a healthy twist. (Tastewises Home Cooking Trends April 2020)
  • 33% consumers cook a special/new recipe as a treat during the crisis (Datassentials)
  • 26% consumers purchase or make special treats or desserts that one normally wouldn’t eat during the crisis (Datassentials)
  • 15% consumers do a virtual happy hour with family or friends during the crisis (Datassentials)

Impact on eating habits away from the home

Between eating indulgently and cooking healthier, we’re all trying to find comfort, or perhaps distraction or entertainment, in our new normal in the home front. But how do these changes impact eating habits away from the home? Remember, not too long ago, over half of the U.S. food dollar was spent on food consumed away-from-home. According to a Datassentials report, 62% of consumers are “definitely avoiding” eating out during the crisis, while 24% are “nervous, but will still eat out.”

With travel halted and hotels deserted, colleges and K-12 schools empty of students and businesses quiet with nearly all employees working from home – the foodservice industry has been up-ended. In fact, sales for all foodservice segments has dropped a weighted average of -65% as a result of COVID-19. In March alone, the industry lost 3 million jobs or a fifth of its workforce (Menu Matters, Opportunities After Covid-19). In fact, 34% of operators let go of more than 75% of their staff. (Datassentials)

As we look at which segments were hit hardest, it’s apparent our fine and casual dining operators are hurting the most. Fine dining is seeing an 82% decrease in overall business since the outbreak of COVID-19, with casual dining and midscale close behind with 73% and 70% respectively. Fast casual and QSR are faring better than their counterparts, but still with a 51% and 42% decrease in overall business since the crisis. (Datassential)

While 30% of operators are closed completely for the time being, 65% are still offering delivery/takeout, despite closed dining rooms. Unfortunately, 86% of operators have seen an increase in takeout, but not enough to offset dine-in losses (Datassentials). Many restaurants and other hospitality venues currently holding out with takeout and delivery are likely to fold due to declining business and, potentially, supply shortages (Menu Matters).

So how are operators coping? Nearly half (43%) of all foodservice operators have narrowed their menu offerings. While 41% have added curbside pickup, 27% contacted customers directly (via website, email, social) about policies/updates and 26% began offering contactless delivery.

Now, let’s take a deep breath. Yes, it feels dire and we are still very much in the thick of it all as the peak of the crisis is yet to be determined, but the silver-lining is that, despite the quarantine, we’re all very much united in these struggles. In fact, consumers are motivated to help the foodservice industry: 34% of consumers said they tip more than usual to support the restaurant staff/delivery person; 24% support through sharing the word online to encourage their communities to support restaurants and 13% donate to a fund or GoFundMe page in support of restaurant employees.

How Can Marketers Help?

  • Promote Your Trade Partners – With today’s digital advertising capabilities, take advantage of geo-targeting that can allow you to hyper-focus your promotions on a trade partner who may be amping up their deliveries or takeout.
  • From Canceled to Rescheduled – With industry events and gatherings being postponed or canceled, don’t pause your marketing spend waiting for the storm to pass. Instead, reach consumers at home via virtual gatherings with at-home entertainment and inspiration. We love The Maker Hotel’s feature on Chef Michael Poiarkoff for a live cooking workshop for Sunday breakfast. Check out this past Buzz Bin on tips to deliver virtual events with impact.
  • Give Back – There are lots of foundations and charities now organized to support relief aid to the foodservice community, such as the Covid-19 Restaurant Workers Relief Fund. As you plan your promotions during this time, consider adding a good dose of altruism to the mix as there are plenty in the industry that could use the extra support.

As we navigate these new waters, it’s important for us to stay optimistic. Despite the current grim outlook, 22% of operators are “feeling cautiously optimistic and expecting to emerge stronger than ever” (with the majority being in healthcare, B&I, C&U and K-12); while 65% are “worried, but fairly confident their operation can get through this in one piece.”

If you’re searching for ways to support the foodservice industry through marketing efforts during this trying time, we’re here to help.