The COVID Diet: How the Pandemic is Impacting Eating, Drinking Habits
Here’s the situation as it exists:
- America is in the midst of a troubling pandemic
- Millions of people are barricaded in their homes
- Many of these folks are regularly in search of a cure for boredom
- Households everywhere are stocked-up with groceries
It doesn’t take a master chef to see: the coronavirus and subsequent quarantine has the makings of a dietary apocalypse.
Pandemic + quarantine + boredom + bulk groceries = a formula for busted diets and waistlines.
Or does it? Does it really?
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Coronavirus Survey: Changes to Eating & Drinking Behavior
At Endcaps & Insights, we got to wondering about the coronavirus crisis and, specifically, its impact on food and beverage consumption.
Through the Field Agent on-demand platform, we surveyed 1,500 U.S. adults/households* on April 8, 2020, right in the thick of the COVID-19 outbreak. We asked respondents about everything from meal preparation to caloric intake, grocery spending to eating/drinking habits.
*All survey respondents were U.S. adults at least 18 years of age and Field Agent app-users. The survey was executed exclusively through the Field Agent platform, April 8, 2020. To make the sample more representative of the general population, Field Agent weighted the data (as described in the coming sections). Demos for the BASE sample of 1,500: Gender - Female (70%), Male (30%), Age - 18-24 (4%), 25-34 (27%), 35-44 (36%), 45-54 (20%), 55-64 (10%), 65+ (3%); Race - Caucasian (74%), Other (11%), African American (8%), Latino/Hispanic (6%); Household Income - < $35K (26%), $35-49K (18%), $50-74K (23%), $75-99K (16%), $100K+ (18%).
The quantitative survey of 1,500 was preceded by a qualitative survey with roughly 200 respondents. After analyzing their free form responses, we were able to build questions and choice options for the larger survey with greater accuracy and inclusivity.
As you’ll see, we also asked agents to take photos of their kitchen cabinets and go-to snacks amid the pandemic, to further illuminate the country's dietary behavior.
So let's go! Below we address 7 questions about food and beverage consumption in the days of the coronavirus. We present insights at both the household and individual level.
The COVID Diet: Questions about Households
1. Are households spending more or less on groceries during the outbreak?
That positive skew below says it all.
As you can readily see in the chart, the majority of households* surveyed, 75%, said they’re spending more on groceries since the COVID crisis began, while only a measly 8% are spending less. Indeed, 1-in-4 households said they’re spending “much more.”
In the survey, 78% of households with kids (n = 876) said they’re spending more on groceries, compared to 71% of households without kids (n = 622).
*For ALL household questions, Field Agent weighted data to reflect the following racial distribution among respondents: Caucasian (63%), Latino/Hispanic (17%) African American (14%), Other (6%),
2. Are households preparing more meals at home these days?
Yes. Yes indeed.
Of all households surveyed, a whopping 83% said they’re preparing more meals at home since the outbreak, compared to only 2% who said less.
But it’s how much more these households are cooking that’s really impressive. In the Field Agent survey, 43% of respondents said they’re preparing meals “much more," while just 15% said “a little more.”
Yes, those stovetops are busy right now.
Take a look at the current state of kitchen cabinets…
3. What specific groceries are households purchasing in greater quantity?
With grocery spending and meal preparation both through the roof, it makes sense that many Americans would be purchasing specific groceries in greater quantity.
But which groceries are households buying more of?
We presented respondents with over 30 popular groceries, derived from the results of the qualitative survey, and asked, “Which of these groceries, if any, is your household purchasing MORE since the U.S. coronavirus outbreak?” The question was posed exclusively to households that said they’re buying specific groceries more these days (n = 815).
Although a wide variety of groceries have seen a jump in sales, meal-prep staples like eggs, milk, bread, produce, pasta, and rice have been particularly popular since the pandemic made landfall. The chart displays the full results.
The COVID Diet: Questions about Individuals
1. Are Americans eating healthier or unhealthier since the pandemic began?
Now let’s consider some questions at the individual level. And here’s a relevant one: Do Americans think they’re eating healthier or unhealthier since a large swath of the population went into isolation?
Survey respondents* were more likely to say they’re eating healthier than unhealthier, something we may be able to chalk up to higher levels of at-home meal preparation.
*For ALL individual questions, Field Agent weighted data to reflect the following gender distribution among respondents: female (50%), male (50%).
In all, 41% said they’re eating healthier, including 8% who selected “much healthier,” since the crisis began. Compare this to 19% who said they’re eating unhealthier. Notably, men (46%) reported eating healthier more frequently than women (37%).
Here’s a related question: What are folks snacking on right now? The photos below depict some of the go-to snacks of the quarantine.
2. But are Americans consuming more?
While relatively more survey respondents said they’re eating healthier through the pandemic, they also said they’re consuming more calories.
Get this: Exactly half of U.S. adults surveyed (50%) reported consuming more calories per day, though only 7% indicated “much more.” Fifty-four percent of women, and 46% of men, said their daily caloric intake has increased.
By comparison, only 15% said they’re consuming fewer calories on a daily basis.
So if Americans are consuming healthier foods and beverages right now, it may also be true they’re consuming more food/drink in general. An interesting follow-up question might be: Are people currently eating “healthier” at an unhealthy level?
3. How specifically have Americans’ eating habits changed?
Now we get down to the real nitty gritty. How specifically have eating and drinking behaviors changed during the COVID-19 crisis?
From the qualitative survey we identified about a dozen behavioral changes mentioned by participants. We then presented these changes as choice options in the quantitative survey of 1,500 U.S. adults.
The chart shows the more noteworthy changes to respondents’ eating habits. Virtually half the sample (48%) said they’re snacking more during these trying times. Only 8% said they’re snacking less.
Thirty-six percent said they’re eating less fast food through the pandemic, while 10% reported eating more. Additionally, 24% indicated they’re eating more meals per day, compared to 10% who are eating fewer.
Notice, too, that 11% reported having more meals delivered to their homes.
4. And how have our drinking habits changed?
And what about drinking? What about soda, alcohol, and other beverages?
Some good news. Hydration is up. Some 52% of respondents said they’re drinking more water during the outbreak, and only 9% said less.
Caffeine-intake may also be up. Twenty-three percent said they’re drinking greater amounts of coffee and 7% less.
Here are some additional beverage insights:
- 21% said they’re drinking more soda
- 14% - less soda
- 12% are drinking more wine
- 5% - less wine
- 12% are drinking more liquor
- 6% - less liquor
- 12% are drinking more beer
- 7% less beer
Wrapping Up: Lessons Learned
In summary, this survey suggests…
- Households are indeed full of groceries right now (i.e., Americans are spending considerably more on groceries)
- Households are preparing their own meals at a much higher rate
- Households are purchasing a wide array of groceries in greater volume, particularly meal-prep staples like eggs, milk, bread, meat, produce, pasta, and rice
- Individuals say they are eating healthier (more than unhealthier)
- Individuals are consuming more calories per day
- Individuals are snacking more but eating less fast food
- Individuals are drinking more water, but also more coffee, soda, and alcohol
So what did we learn that can shed light on the original hypothesis—that the pandemic has the makings of a dietary apocalypse?
Health-wise, the results are clearly a mixed bag.
Americans appear to be making both healthy and unhealthy dietary decisions right now, and it’ll take time to understand whether this ultimately results in a net gain or net loss to personal diets, waistlines, and overall health.
But the pandemic is impacting more than eating and drinking behavior. The retail industry at-large is grappling with a wide range of questions, challenges, and opportunities.
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