Assessing the impact of a public health crisis, political turmoil and social unrest in America

February 1, 2021
5 min read

COVID-19 rages on while vaccination programs struggle to get up and running

When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, we leaned into our nearly 50 years of experience as consumer and market experts. We also had the huge advantage of a global analyst network and learned from the experiences of our colleagues in China and around the world and their insights on how consumers and businesses were reacting. We used this to develop a model to assess the impact the pandemic would have on every consumer market we cover in the short, medium, and long term. This assessment has been included in every US Mintel Report we have published since April 2020.

We launched our first wave of US research specifically dedicated to consumer perception of COVID-19 in early March 2020. We have continued to track consumer sentiment around COVID-19 since then, evolving our questions as the pandemic progresses. As a team of researchers, we obsessed over tracking the development of the virus and understanding its impact on the consumers and markets we analyze.

As a team of researchers, we obsessed over tracking the development of the virus and understanding its impact on the consumers and markets we analyze.

What we’re doing about it

Since the summer of 2020, we have been working from the assumption that a vaccine would be rolled out in 2021; that assumption is bearing out as we speak. We also assumed that the vaccine roll-out would not immediately signal a complete rebound in many categories and that the impacts of the pandemic, particularly the job losses, unemployment rates, and uneven recovery among consumers, would result in a long, slow market recovery.

Current and future economic conditions and what we can learn from the past

Despite this being a health crisis, opinions about how to deal with COVID-19 have become largely politicized. Regardless, many businesses have failed, and even more have had to lay off staff or reduce hours, with an often catastrophic impact on household finances, as the US plunged into recession. While the conditions surrounding the 2007-09 downturn are undoubtedly different, we were able to look back through our research and insights from the last recession and learn from them how markets reacted to the economic upheaval and the strategies that worked for brands the last time around.

While the US is no longer in a recession, unemployment remains high at 6.7% as of December 2020. Importantly, the impact of this unemployment has disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic consumers. With unemployment claims far outpacing those seen in past recessions, restoring the country to full employment is seen as a crucial step on the path to economic recovery.

What we’re doing about it

Throughout 2020, we constantly monitored not only the pandemic, but also the subsequent impacts on macroeconomic factors, consumer confidence, and the guidance of regulatory bodies. Forecasts since July 2020 have incorporated the belief that without containment, economic recovery will be prolonged and follow an extended-check shape – a steep decline followed by a long, slow recovery. At the same time, we recognize that the impact on both consumers and markets has been uneven, and inequality will be exacerbated.

Political turmoil and social unrest are woven into the fabric of America

Pandemic and recession aside, the US is in the midst of a social uprising. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic consumers, the killing of George Floyd and several other racially-fuelled incidents that bookended his death led to a social and racial justice awakening across the country. Over the summer months of 2020, Americans voiced their anger, and frustration and demanded change through marches, demonstrations, and protests in support of Black lives. While these were overwhelmingly peaceful, some were accompanied by property damage and violence.

These events added strain to an already fractured America. Then, the contentious 2020 Presidential Election added inflamed emotions to the fire. Despite the lack of hard evidence, a fervent conviction that the election results were rigged as the result of widespread voter fraud led a mob of angry protesters to storm the nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, as the Senate was voting to confirm President-elect, Joe Biden’s victory.

A ‘perfect storm’ of events and dire circumstances has transformed many consumers’ perception of the world and will necessitate greater accountability and purpose-driven business on the part of brands.

These growing divisions play out not only in consumer behavior and support for social and political causes but also in brand choices. As consumers continue to place a high priority and value on self-expression, individuality, and equity, we can expect fervent consumer activism in the coming months and years. A ‘perfect storm’ of events and dire circumstances has transformed many consumers’ perception of the world and will necessitate greater accountability and purpose-driven business on the part of brands.

What we’re doing about it

At Mintel, we’re mindful of these divisions, and how easy it is for people to find themselves in an echo chamber which simply reinforces their own viewpoint. As such, we encourage and foster collaboration and open discussion among not only our analyst teams but the entire organization. All our content goes through a rigorous quality-control process where ideas and analysis are challenged and opposing perspectives are introduced to ensure that we consider various angles to elevate the quality of our insights.

Whether it’s analyst commentary like what you’re reading now, an annual category report, or a bespoke Consultancy deep dive into purchase intent, we are confident that our research is analyzed and our recommendations are developed without bias in order to help our clients make better business decisions.

Part one of this two-part series details the clarity and confidence consumer and market research provide during times of uncertainty. Read more here.

Molly Maier

Molly Maier is Vice President, Mintel Reports, Americas, responsible for the US, Canada, and Brazil Mintel Reports analyst teams, as well as US Market Sizes. She specializes in consumer insights, primary quantitative research, syndicated research, market evaluation, and competitive intelligence.

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