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How the Pandemic Is Impacting Grocery Shopping and Dining, Almost 2 Years In

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The coronavirus pandemic has left its mark on society with fewer commutes, more Zoom meetings and less quiet time with kids constantly at home. It’s also caused money woes, with 42% of Americans reporting that they’ve cried over their financial situation during the pandemic.

So how has COVID-19 impacted Americans’ shopping habits? A new survey from Acosta, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based global integrated sales and marketing services provider, sheds light on those issues.

Acosta asked members of its “proprietary shopper community” questions about their habits — from grocery purchases to dining out — via online surveys conducted in January 2022. Here’s what it found.

Pandemic concerns still weigh on U.S. shoppers

On a scale of one to 10 (with one being not at all concerned and 10 being extremely concerned), U.S. shoppers had an average concern level of 6.6 as of January 2022 — nearly one point higher than the previous month. This result also in line with COVID-19 cases in the U.S., which were relatively low in December but skyrocketed in January.

Overall, 46% of U.S. shoppers said they were very concerned about the pandemic. In contrast, about a quarter of those surveyed said they weren’t very concerned.

Consumers’ financial situations could impact part of this concern. While the unemployment rate has been on a steady decline since April 2020, Acosta found that nearly 33% of households said they’re in a worse financial place now than they were pre-pandemic. That’s not surprising — per the 2021 LendingTree survey mentioned earlier, job or income loss was the No. 1 cause for crying during the pandemic.

But how does this concern translate to shopping behaviors?

Pandemic shopping habits linger (in some cases)

Some of the shopping behaviors that emerged out of necessity because of the pandemic seem to be firmly ingrained in consumers’ lives. For example, 68% of those surveyed by Acosta said they’re grocery shopping online at least some of the time. That’s up 28 percentage points from responses recorded between Dec. 30, 2020, and Jan. 4, 2021.

Part of these continued behaviors is likely because products are simply hard to find, spurred on by supply-chain issues caused by the pandemic. In fact, 60% of U.S. shoppers told Acosta they’re feeling the impact of such shortages. Plus, nearly all respondents (94%) said they were paying more for groceries — particularly meat and dairy products.

But although it’s been a while since the widespread reports of shoppers panic-buying necessities like toilet paper, that doesn’t mean consumers have forgotten those experiences. Almost a third of consumers told Acosta they’ve continued to stock up on certain products, like paper products, canned goods and meat.

Safety also seems to be top of mind for shoppers: Three-quarters of respondents say they’re wearing masks or other face coverings when shopping, even if they’re not required where the respondents live.

But when it comes to restaurants, behaviors seem to indicate a different story about COVID-19 precautions. Half of U.S. shoppers said they’ve eaten in a restaurant in the past month, and more (57%) plan to do it again soon.

However, it’s not just groceries and other essentials being affected by inflation-related issues. In fact, 54% of diners say they’ve noticed higher menu prices — though that same group seemed less aware of issues like limited menus and staff shortages. So while supply-chain problems are still being felt almost two years into the pandemic, other issues in these industries may not be on consumers’ radars.

Methodology: Acosta surveyed its proprietary shopper community via online surveys between Jan. 25 and 27, 2022.

 

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