What role is food playing?
“With food front and center to much of the turmoil around COVID-19, it’s no surprise that we are beginning to see changes in daily eating routines,” Datassential said.
Nearly half of customers are now cooking/baking from scratch more often, the company found. There’s also been a rise in “emotional” eating, with increases in consumption of comfort foods, stress eating, and as is often the case with too much time on your hands, snacking between meals.
Consumers are also proving less likely to try new restaurants, whether driven by less choice or simply being more risk averse. Households with kids are shifting the most, Datassential said, with significantly more change across almost all activities than their single counterparts.
There’s whitespace in this for restaurants, too. If your brand promotes a healthy-eating message, shout that louder than ever. People are going to get tired of eating food they can buy in bulk (pasta, rice, etc.) as this crisis drags out. Put the freshly made and ingredient-forward proclamation front and center.
“How have consumers’ daily routines changed since the onset of COVID-19?”
Cooking/baking “from scratch” at home
- Less often: Negative 13 percent
- More often: Plus 42 percent
Eating “comfort” foods
- Less often: Negative 18 percent
- More often: Plus 33 percent
Snacking between meals
- Less often: Negative 21 percent
- More often: Plus 29 percent
Eating healthy/better-for-you foods
- Less often: Negative 20 percent
- More often: Plus 25 percent
- Less often: Negative 18 percent
- More often: Plus 24 percent
Eating indulgent/treat foods
- Less often: Negative 25 percent
- More often: Plus 23 percent
Shopping online for food
- Less often: Negative 17 percent
- More often: Plus 22 percent
Skipping meals or working through meals
- Less often: Negative 22 percent
- More often: Plus 17 percent
Trying new restaurants (for pickup / delivery)
- Less often: Negative 34 percent
- More often: Plus 15 percent
- Less often: 19
- More often: Plus 14 percent
The restaurant number is obviously disconcerting. But remember this all changes rapidly. Comfort foods might lose some luster as time lingers and people start to mind their health a bit more. And it’s not the easiest thing right now to buy a lot of salad ingredients from the grocery store. At least not in huge quantities. So pay close attention to attrition as we move forward into April. People are likely to start craving what they don’t have easy access to already. And that’s where restaurants can play a critical role. (President Trump extended nationwide social distancing measures to April 30).
Datassential asked consumers what they have done to make mealtimes more interesting at home. These answers offer a window into some experience-fueled options restaurants could try to leverage.
“Meals have always been a social point at my house. Now, we just can eat more leisurely and outside [in our backyard] more often.”
Some brands have created do-it-yourself kits for consumers to make at home. Think about the time of year and stay on trend. Perhaps instead of just setting up a barbecue bundle for takeout, offer a seasoned platter, complete with directions, that customers can grab and throw on the grill. Like premade hamburgers from their favorite hamburger joint (you). That might just be a more appealing weekday option than trying to grab a pound of ground beef at the supermarket when everybody is wearing a mask and gloves and trying to avoid each other. It would, at the least, target an occasion that is one-night only. So people don’t feel as though they need to empty their bank accounts and buy everything possible when they brace for a grocery store visit.
“We try to eat outside when it’s not raining. Picnics. We’ve tried new recipes and baking some new stuff.”
Same deal. For the dessert chains out there, a similar vein of thinking. A cake in a box is an interesting element. Especially since many essentials, like flour and sugar, have flown off grocery shelves in a hurry.
“The entire family is helping with the meal, setting the table, and deciding what we can cook. Then sitting down before dinner saying prayers as a family.”
This sounds great, but will it be the case every day, all week, for the next month? Let’s ask this consumer again 20 days from now. What about a restaurant promotion like, “Tuesday Let Us Do It,” where a brand touts a home-cooked option that’s pickup-ready and built to go. This is where budget-friendly price points will be key, in addition to the messaging around fresh food. Some restaurants have pared down menus and put all-star options at the top. Presenting these in new formats, designed for a large group for example, could be a nice way to tap into nostalgia for a night. If people can’t go out anymore, give them a night out without leaving the house.
“We’ve been trying different recipes and meals that we find on YouTube or any other social media, such as an app that asks everything you have in your pantry and suggests meals from what you have.”
Why can’t restaurants do this, too? Now is the chance to have the corporate chef cook on YouTube and social media, and bring customers into the restaurant. It’s like an open kitchen in a socially distant world.
“Have had lots of ‘from scratch’ meals and have had movie and diner nights. Also have FaceTime calls with family to check in on them during meals or at all.”
A creative option could be a “refer a friend” deal. Sort of like when you get $50 for sending somebody to do their taxes at your spot. In this case, though, restaurants could offer a $10 gift card if you get someone else to order and use a specific code. And promote it as, “Dine with friends.” Include some messaging around grab a meal together, turn on FaceTime and enjoy (enter restaurant name)’s most popular dish without the cooking hassle. Together.
“We'd been eating keto but our grocery selection is limited and we've been bored, so we're eating what we want right now, cooking all the comfort foods we haven't eaten since the holidays.”
This is not going to last. It just isn’t. And restaurants can play a role in shifting that conversation back to normalcy by making it clear they’re still serving things like gluten-free, keto options from a kitchen you know and trust.
“Going to the supermarket is like the worst version of ‘Chopped’ you can imagine, so you have to get creative on what you buy and how you cook it.”
And this is only going to deepen as the amount of cases rise and going out in public becomes more troubling.