Insights

The Next Normal: Adapting to Change in COVID-19 Times

11 Dec 2020

8 min

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. Despite the promise of hope that a vaccine holds, one cannot deny that the way we will live, at least in the near future, will carry with it habits we have acquired in a year dominated by COVID-19.

In this article, I will aim to highlight a number of the behavioral changes and consumer trends I feel will be the most impactful going into 2021.

However it is worth noting that these are unprecedented times. It is highly likely that new trends will continue to emerge as the pandemic and its aftereffects continue to develop.

Accelerated Health

We know that the growing consciousness around health and wellness has been an ongoing trend for many years and has continued to evolve even before COVID-19. The pandemic appears to have accelerated this trend further. Health and wellness have become a priority for an even broader segment of the population, as a sense of vulnerability caused a rethink for many about immunity and the overall state of their health. To those already on the health and wellness train, the pandemic seemed to reinforce the need to stay on track despite restrictions during the lockdown.

A study by app tracking company ‘Adjust’ has indicated health and fitness app installs increased 67% globally in late March, following gym closures.

An increase of 48% on sessions followed in May as consumers get creative with continuing (and adopting) fitness regimes, happily catered to by entrepreneurial fitness and tech companies. This can present a good opportunity for brands to connect with tech providers as a way to reach this targeted set of health and wellness consumers.

Jonathan Suen, Eurasian Male, Mid 20's. Eurasian male preparing protein shake at kitchen counter.

Another key talking point in health and wellness that accelerated with COVID19 is the growing awareness of the importance of our mental wellbeing. Long periods of lockdowns and isolation, along with drastic shifts in lifestyle, a growing anxiety from the virus, and its economic impacts, has put a spotlight on the need to care for one’s mental health and put it in the mainstream. 

I've seen that, globally, governments and NGOs have taken steps to support this growing attention to mental health. I anticipate that it won't be too far off that food and drink will be accepted as one way to support this. Foods that offer comfort in stressful times will continue to be in demand. Based on this, I see opportunity in food & beverage innovations continuing to focus on formulations that support, and promote, positive mental (and emotional) wellbeing.

Sustainable Nutrition

It was a mixed bag for sustainability. I've seen some issues that were prominent before the pandemic take a back seat from others as consumer needs shifted.  

Before COVID-19, there was vigilance against too much packaging. Now with concerns around product safety, consumers may be more accepting of extra packaging to keep their products ‘protected’ from the virus.

That said, I expect sustainable packaging to continue to be a key talking point moving forward. It is likely that any demotion of sustainable packagings importance will be short term. I see this more as a pause than the end of the campaign towards sustainable packaging.

The good news is that we've seen the pandemic highlighting a wider definition of sustainability into consumer consciousness. Consumers are now seeking more transparency from their food and beverages. They want to know how sustainability contributes to healthier and better-quality products, as well as how they help sustain communities and protect the environment.

C1 Place

Seeing empty shelves in stores has created greater awareness towards conserving existing resources and reducing wastage.

Curbing the spread of COVID-19 has been promoted as a community effort which in turn drove attention back to wider community support. We are likely to see digital at the forefront in enabling this trend, from consumers using technology to track the ‘true cost’ of their consumption, to holding companies accountable by seeking transparent information about the environmental impacts of production.

Return to Value

We are likely to see consumers seek enduring value as changes in their discretionary income and larger economic concerns continue to dent consumer confidence. Going forward we may see consumers forgo frills and fads for ‘value’ products which meet their core needs of quality, health and safety – at a low price.

Consumers are refocusing on the essentials and tangible benefits like simplicity, safety, efficacy, affordability.

It is possible affordable premiumization might see a resurgence as consumers seek to satisfy simple indulgences to elevate the everyday. Private label could do well if they are able to offer grocery shoppers more affordable ways of maintaining quality or of trading up. At a time of economic uncertainty, brands that can clearly communicate their value and benefit to the consumers’ everyday life will continue to thrive.

It is important to communicate how products are a part of an everyday essential that enables consumers not only to cope with current challenges posed by the pandemic, but to help them regain a sense of control and normalcy back into pre-pandemic life.

Rediscovered Demand Spaces

Acceleration of future trends has been a key talking point as a result of the pandemic. However, a key impact of COVID-19 to our daily lives is also the rediscovery of habits that we had, before life was always on ‘on the go’ and our ever-busy lifestyles took over everything. Lockdowns and isolations have prompted us to revisit old habits and forced us to slow down.

The home became the focus of life once again; we are taking our time eating breakfast (or have started eating breakfast again), we are spending more time preparing our food or (re) learning how to make meals.

NZMP Consumer Milk Powders

These have meant that consumption occasions (or so-called demand spaces) that have been replaced by faster, convenient consumption, are making a comeback.

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Signposted for Safety

We've observed consumers are seeking tangible signals of safety which apply both to the physical store and the products that they buy. We anticipate visible evidence to be increasingly important in helping alleviate consumer fears over their health and safety. They want to know that appropriate actions have been made to meet their needs especially on safety and efficacy.  It is all part of taking precautions in the new norm.

If there was a time to tell consumers the story of what a brand does to get to the quality that it delivers, it will be now.

Companies can consider communicating supply chain stories that showcase quality control standards and care taken to ensure products are manufactured and processed safely. Clearly emphasise on pack the benefit claims that support immunity and long-term health. Highlight ingredients that boost confidence in the delivery of those benefit claims. Show certifications on how the company is sustainably sourcing products to protect the environment and the community.

Two men outside factory

The Tetra Pak Index (13th edition) showed that more than 50% of consumers not only believe that improving food safety is the responsibility of manufacturers. They see it as the number one issue that companies need to tackle now and in the future. Meanwhile 60% of consumers globally say they worry about the food they buy being hygienic and safe. The key is to take away doubt and re-assure consumers that they are making the right choices that will keep them and their loved ones safe and protected from illness in the future.

The New Planogram

We can all see that shopping behaviours are changing, and they are here to stay. As we continue to be wary of public places, we continue to adjust the way we shop. They are more planned, more purposive, and less spontaneous. Getting in and out quicker and shifting to shopping online where possible. 

This suggests that now, more than ever, the effectiveness and impact of in store displays in catching consumer attention is critical. 

E-commerce has been on a steady rise even before COVID-19, but we have witnessed the pandemic accelerate its growth. COVID-19 likely forced non-users to try it for the first time, and experiencing the advantages likely reinforced adoption. Online shopping also appeared to have provided  a refuge to avid shoppers who no longer can visit physical stores for retail therapy. These changes should prompt a re-think of ecommerce strategies. We've seen that having an ecommerce platform is crucial if a company doesn’t already have one. In the future, I see a need to be more purposive in the way they are designed to deliver a positive customer experience. In addition, I advise a seamless integration of online and offline buying channels will be a must have.

Another key change in shopping dynamics, especially in places where coronavirus cases remain high, is the change in the usual household shoppers.

1 in 10

In the US for example, Nielsen reported that 1 in every 10 shoppers today were not the core shopper before COVID-19.  


This means a change in the shopper audience that companies have to cater to and a need to understand who these ‘new shopper audiences’ are to better cater to their requirements.

Conclusion

COVID-19 is a worldwide health and economic crisis that has the potential to permanently change consumer behaviour. Trends were accelerated, some in a matter of weeks. Habits were changed, as we got pushed beyond our comfort zones to accept a new way of doing things. As COVID-19 is unprecedented in modern times, there is no historic data to learn from or model future demand.  We are starting a new baseline and it’s one that is still moving.

This makes future consumer behaviours harder to pin down with certainty. We can only look into general guidelines on the possible trajectory of these behaviours moving forward. 

It has, however, taught us a valuable lesson on responding to consumer needs.  It has taught us the need to be agile, flexible, and ready to respond to uncertainty and unpredictability. Companies who have made the investment to truly understand their consumers pre-pandemic and have aligned their brands to empathize with their consumers will be a step ahead as we enter this ‘new normal’.

About the Author

Roshena De Leon

Global Insights Manager | Fonterra (AMENA)

Roshena joined Fonterra in early 2015, and as the Global Insights Manager she is responsible for communicating her in-depth understanding of global markets, categories and consumer trends through strategic initiatives and opportunities. Roshena has a passion for telling the story behind the data and working with NZMP and their customers on which innovations and actions can bring insights to life.

Roshena has over 20 years of experience in both qualitative and quantitative research with a strong focus on the FMCG category.

Prior to Fonterra, Roshena has held roles in various global market research and media agencies and MNCs.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are general opinions only, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.

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