COVID-19 reshaped US needs for convenience and health

September 15, 2021
6 min read

Nearly two-thirds of US adults agree that the pandemic has made them reevaluate their life priorities, according to Mintel research on American values. In food and drink, US adults say the pandemic caused the most change in where they eat, how they grocery shop and how they approach their diets. Many of these new habits and attitudes will be routine when “the next normal” arrives in the US. Consumers will have more flexible meal needs, a reliance on ecommerce and a proactive approach to health.

Fit in with more casual hybrid routines

US adults predict that hybrid work schedules will be the norm, challenging retailers and foodservice operators to offer time-saving food and drink near and far from home. After more than a year of eating primarily at home, consumers will be looking for food and drink solutions that align with their more casual and flexible schedules.

Flexibility will be key if hybrid work arrangements emerge as a norm

US adults anticipate at least partial returns to in-person work. Nearly two in five US adults expect their employers to institute hybrid arrangements that blend going into work and working from home. The move to flexible work schedules aligns with more casual and less strict approaches to routines that were established during at-home time in 2020 and early 2021.

Home has been a safe space with fewer rules than the outside world. Consumers embraced the freedom to establish their own meal times and common menu items. This will place new demands on convenience food that can be personalized to fit in with any application or occasion, whether it be grab-and-go for in-person work days or slow-cooked dinners on work-from-home days.

Offset cooking fatigue and ease busier schedules with convenience foods

Recommendations to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus caused nearly half of US adults to change where they eat. After eating most meals at home from March 2020-April 2021, a third of US adults say they are sick of cooking for themselves or their household. By saving consumers time and effort, convenience food and drink can be positioned as solutions that alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress or burnout that consumers are feeling after a tumultuous 18 months.

Brands still can suggest options for customization. Products that can be personalized would appeal to consumers who want to adapt food to their household’s preferences or show off newfound cooking skills – when time allows.

Cultivate the loyalty of new eCommerce shoppers

Online food and drink shopping is here to stay. Now that COVID-19 broke the ecommerce barrier for food and drink, retailers and brands can increase loyalty with low delivery fees and personalized promotions and recommendations.

eCommerce has won over new shoppers

Retailers and brands will need to ensure the ecommerce services that consumers enjoyed during the pandemic remain accessible and affordable when “the next normal” arrives.

The pandemic accelerated consumer acceptance of ecommerce grocery options. As of January 2021, nearly three in five US grocery shoppers who shop in-store and online were shopping more online during COVID-19.

In July 2020, Mintel predicted that “as lockdowns lift, many consumers will be hesitant to give up the newfound convenience of grocery delivery.” Indeed, the time savings and feelings of safety of not shopping in person during COVID-19 are likely among the reasons why more than half of US adults who are shopping more online for groceries during COVID-19 plan to continue doing so when COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

Millennials are sticking with online shopping, but retailers will need to offer incentives to retain Baby Boomers

Millennials are more likely than all adults to plan to increase their online grocery shopping in 2021. This reflects anticipation of busier routines, especially for Millennials who are parents.

Baby Boomers are most at risk of defecting from online shopping. One US male aged 55-64 told Mintel that minimum purchase requirements for free delivery were a downside to online shopping. Low fees can keep these shoppers, especially those shopping for smaller households.

Embrace the new, more holistic view on health

Brands will need to fit into consumers’ new all-encompassing views of health. The future approach to “self-care” will move from “comfort food” to nutritious food. Functional formulations and convenience items can help offset daily stressors because “healthy” now includes proactive solutions to physical, mental and emotional health.

The global health crisis makes health a top priority

The pandemic has prompted new proactive approaches to health, as predicted by Mintel in 2020. Health tops the list of people’s 2021 life priorities, only slightly edging out family life and relationships, according to Mintel research on American values.

Similar to the disparity in the pandemic’s economic impact, not everyone has been able to use the slowdown in activity to focus on their health. Nearly half of US adults felt more in control of their health in November 2020 than they did in January 2020, while more than a quarter felt less in control, according to Mintel research on health management trends.

With burnout looming, mental and emotional health solutions will be needed

Food and drink has an opportunity to help people balance moods and emotions, according to Mintel’s 2021 Global Food & Drink Trend, “Feed the Mind.”

The pandemic has accelerated the importance of mental and emotional health. The focus on mental and emotional health should be regarded as a long-term trend because people aged 18-34 are most likely to be open about and seeking mental health solutions, according to Mintel data on US health management trends.

As the Delta variant pushes recovery farther into the future, the looming danger of anxiety overload and burnout only rises. “Pandemic fatigue” has depleted many people’s energy levels, making consumers look for new ways to relax and recharge.

In addition to functional formulations, convenience products can be positioned as ways to reduce stress by saving time or effort.

What we think

Convenience and health will be top priorities for US consumers in “the next normal.” The anticipated shift to hybrid at-home and away-from-home work schedules will make easy-to-use products and time-saving ecommerce options essential to reducing the stress of meal-time and grocery shopping. A more proactive focus on health and self-care will require products to address physical, mental and emotional health with clear health claims, functional ingredients and nutritious formulations.

Jennifer Zegler
Jennifer Zegler

Jenny Zegler is the Director of Food and Drink at Mintel. Jenny blends her trends expertise with food and drink topics such as health, formulation, sustainability and premiumization.

More from Mintel
  • The continually shifting role of health in 2021
    Understand the impact of COVID-19 on the Food and Drink industry in the US...
    Explore this research
  • Mintel Leap
    Mintel Leap is a revolutionary new AI-powered platform that will transform your research process....
    Book a demo
Subscribe to Mintel Spotlight
Related articles

Download the Latest Market Intelligence