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Utilizing the Mintel Field Services network, we’re taking a deeper dive into the consumer packaged goods (CPG) retail landscape as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves around the world, focusing on the in-store and online shopping experiences. Here, we take a look at some of the global developments and initiatives grocery retailers around the world are rolling out in the midst of the current crisis.

Global: Panic buying has been present in the vast majority of markets

One of the first signs of concern in markets affected by COVID-19 is panic buying/stockpiling. This is something that has affected 61% of markets covered by the field evaluators. Such behaviors are currently most prevalent in Europe and the US – the current hotbeds of the outbreak.

EMEA: retail is adapting to increased online demand, some still struggling

In Europe, grocery retailers are gradually adapting and innovating to overcome the new challenges presented by COVID-19, including changes in consumer behavior. Stockpiling is easing and availability is improving, although some products remain out of stock. Online shopping remains popular, with services continuing to struggle to meet the demand. Even retailers like Aldi, at least in the UK, have moved into online food for the first time as a reaction.

Retail initiatives

Italian supermarket Esselunga has been swamped by demand but is putting a priority on older shoppers with free delivery to those over age 65. In France, the global supermarket chain Carrefour is offering express online delivery for nurses and other healthcare workers.

British grocery retailer Tesco has rolled out safety measures at the local store level including social distancing, staff protection, and disinfectants for trolleys.

Commentary of a field evaluator in the UK

“Shopping behaviour in the UK has switched from the ‘preparation behaviours’ to now settling into the ‘new-normal’. Availability is improved from the early days of the outbreak but there are still gaps on some shelves for high-demand products. Consumers are shopping more locally, with a boost to convenience stores and those close to living areas. Traffic to larger stores slowed as customers limit time in-store and avoid crowded spaces. Demand remains high for online deliveries, with retailers giving priority to existing, older and at-risk shoppers. As retailers react to the challenges of social distancing, one-in-one out queuing has become common and in larger stores one-way systems have been introduced to manage customer flow. To protect staff, personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, are becoming more common whilst plastic barriers have been erected around checkouts.”

Americas: in-store shopping preferred over online, each presenting challenges

In the Americas, field evaluators were reporting signs of panic buying through the end of Apri. Some 27% reported panic buying in general, while 24% said it was impeding their shopping ability. This is happening in-store and online, which could be causing cross-channel traffic.

Our research shows that consumers who try to shop in-store first but are unable to get what they want, will look to other stores before succumbing to alternative brands. They may switch to the online channel out of convenience, or out of fear of going into too many stores for safety reasons.

If online customers are faced with out-of-stock inventory issues or cannot get a delivery time slot, they may resort to going into stores to find what they want. They may even be cautious about trying to order groceries online again, especially if they are first-timers or if their initial experience was disappointing and frustrating.

Amazon has even had to prioritize current customers for online grocery ordering, putting any new customers on a waiting list. The retailer is rolling out digital tools that will allow a first-come, first-served spot in line so consumers don’t need to keep checking to see if a time slot has opened up.

Retail initiatives

Colombian startup Rappi is piloting deliveries by robots as a safe way of transporting restaurant orders to people quarantined at home – in conjunction with digital payments.

In Brazil, Carrefour has frozen the price of 200 private label products and is offering personal shoppers for consumers to pick up purchases in a drive-through format.

Commentary of a field evaluator in the US

Americans are still worried, as evidenced by panic buying at double the rate observed in the region overall. High demand is resulting in limitations on desired items, both in-store and online. Items are out-of-stock or stores are implementing restrictions on the number of items allowed per person. Retailers recognize the worry and the need for protection for both employees and customers and are responding with increased actions aside from the basics (eg hand sanitizer, social distancing) such as lines to enter stores and an ask for customers to wear a face mask when shopping in-store. Even so, innovation and supply hasn’t stopped: nearly 70% of field evaluators cite that new products have launched. This may reflective of the supply chain improving, but it’s also possible brands/retailers have prioritized new product launches for health/wellness or other essential items.

APAC: compulsory measures as some markets open, contactless delivery on the rise

While life is gradually returning to normal in some East Asian markets (eg China and South Korea), some Southeast Asian markets (eg India, Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia) are imposing extended lockdowns. Wearing a mask in public is now a compulsory measure in most markets; grocery retailers and consumers are used to precautionary measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers.

Contactless delivery has also been introduced by many grocery retailers in Asia to help regain the confidence of online deliveries. Despite the growing demand in online grocery shopping, the continued lockdowns have had a negative impact on the delivery of online orders in India, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Retail initiatives

The Central Food Hall supermarket chain in Bangkok s employing cleaning robots with UV-C disinfecting lights, approved innovation by the World Health Organization (WHO), to sanitize the stores and eliminate the spread of germs, including the novel coronavirus.

In the Philippines, 7-Eleven launched take-home packs of ‘Big Bites’ hotdog and siopao for a limited time. The home packs target consumers who want affordable merienda (‘light meal’) or a midnight snack without traveling all the way to the store during the quarantine.

Commentary of a field evaluator in China

“As China is now gradually transitioning out of the COVID-19 crisis, the lifting of the lockdown and relaxation of movement shows that grocery shopping is getting back to normal. Despite consumers still needing to wear masks when shopping in stores, the general attitude is that life is getting back to normal. Online channels and online to offline retailers are gaining in popularity recently. The rise of live stream commerce is the most interesting trend as it is expanding to the food and drink category.”

The new Marketplace Moves weekly updates cover developments in the Americas, EMEA, and APAC and are available to all Mintel clients, regardless of subscription type, on clients.mintel.com. The weekly updates feature daily reporting from Mintel’s field services network in 86 markets, consumer data, and expert analysis on how the outbreak is affecting retail now and what may change in the future.

Stay up to date on new retail partnerships and services, and the latest comparative data on initiatives such as the requirement to wear masks, temperature taking in-store, purchase limits, and protection measures for store staff. To find out more about how Mintel Field Services can help you – or to get access to Marketplace Moves – contact your Account Manager. If you’re not a Mintel client but would like to learn more, please get in touch.