The Fight to Retain Meal Dollars in Post-COVID Grocery

BlogBannerConsumer meal dollars spent this past year shifted dramatically toward grocery stores: whether in-store, online, or through delivery or curbside pickup services. When restaurant dining became unsafe, consumers pivoted hard toward groceries, causing a surge in supermarket profits as retailers adjusted frantically to the strange times. But now, as COVID-19 restrictions dwindle and vaccinations allow shoppers new confidence and comfort, restaurant dining is again on the rise. How can grocers adjust? Are there ways to retain meal dollars as pandemic restrictions lift? Appealing to pandemic-era shifts in eating habits will be key to retaining meal dollars. During the pandemic, consumers became concerned with products that benefit their health and wellness, and are looking for easy and inexpensive ways to continue cooking from home. Read on to find out how some retailers are already adjusting to these expectations and keeping consumers in their stores.

Providing Meal-Prep In-Store

Grocers can take advantage of habits that emerged in pandemic-era eating such as the appeal of making meals and eating in the comfort of a home. Grocers can provide both the means and resources for in-home cooking and baking, helping consumers answer the often-exhausting question: “What’s for dinner?”

Subscription-based meal services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron remain popular post-COVID, and grocers like Kroger are looking to compete by providing a similar service. Meal kits allow the convenience of having every ingredient as well as cooking instructions for a particular meal available and easily outlined, and continue to encourage in-home cooking and eating. The ease of pre-prepared meals will become especially important as consumers grow tired of involved cooking and return to busier lives and fuller calendars post-vaccination. Supermarket retailer meal kit services—like Kroger’s Home Chef program—can also provide customers with more choice and flexibility, unlike subscription-based meal kits that have to be planned out well in advance

Consumers crave convenience and flexibility—and increasingly, appreciate innovation in fresh foods, which meal prep provided at a grocery store can also provide. Similarly, a pre-prepared meal that is easy to cook can help consumers retain more control over healthy eating habits, which is another important way that grocers can cinch post-pandemic meal dollars. 

Plant-Based & Healthy Eating

 A key shift in post-pandemic spending and eating is a move toward healthier diets. Pandemic fatigue and stress caused some shoppers to lose interest in healthy cooking and eating; the ease of purchasing or ordering less healthy meals provided comfort during a high-stress circumstance. In light of easing restrictions and widespread vaccinations, consumers are emerging from their homes with an eye on healthy eating.

One way retailers can react to this trend and retain healthy meal spending is to provide the means and resources for eating healthier. Many grocers are doing so by responding to growing consumer interest in plant-based products. For example, “Target added a plant-based product line to its Good & Gather private label brand that will include meal alternatives, plant-based dips and other items… [and] Kroger expanded its Simple Truth Plant Based product line with more than 50 new products.” As sustainable foods increase in variety, innovation, and availability, grocers can provide consumers with a road map to incorporating healthier habits through initiatives like meal-prep.

Providing the foods is one step; many grocers are taking the next steps to equip their consumers with the resources to make healthy eating a lifestyle. Jodi Helmer writes in Civil Eats that grocers such as “ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Hy-Vee, and Giant Food have launched virtual nutrition services—some targeted to low-income shoppers—that include cooking demonstrations, online classes, virtual store tours, and one-on-one chats with registered dietitians who can answer questions and provide advice about menu planning, shopping on a budget, and making healthier food choices.” Education provided by grocery nutrition programs may encourage shoppers to reverse unhealthy eating habits retained during the pandemic—and to keep shoppers coming back as lockdowns end. Providing the resources alongside the products necessary to make healthier choices can also let consumers know that eating healthy is an affordable, easy, and attainable alternative to eating out and can be achieved conveniently during an in-store shopping experience. 

Emphasizing the In-Store Experience 

Marketing and clear distribution of health-related information, sales, and products is also vital to keeping consumers in grocery stores. With rising vaccination rates allowing some consumers an increased level of comfort, the in-store shopping experience can be critical to retaining meal dollars they might spend elsewhere. 

Grocers are beginning to creatively advertise summer deals to bring consumers back into the physical space. Sprouts Farmers highlights the festive atmosphere it strives to deliver in its stores by emphasizing the "treasure hunt of fresh discoveries" it offers shoppers. A press release issued by the grocer goes on to describe fresh and organic products the chain will offer during the coming months, including honeydew melons, candy heart grapes and raspberry apricots. Save A Lot's "99 Days of Summer" marketing campaign makes the retailer's budget-friendly image as the foundation for a series of in-store discounts offered through early September; the promotion involves weekly digital coupons for individual items and "scratch-offs" with savings on private label products and national brand items.

The in-store grocery shopping experience can offer innovative meal solutions consumers might not otherwise think of: Initiatives like exciting varieties of produce and special seasonal deals will encourage shoppers to travel to the store to seek out these solutions. Allowing consumers a delightful in-store shopping experience should remain a constant principle and will only supplement promotional efforts that seek to retain shoppers post-pandemic. 

Healthy Eating & At-Home Cooking Initiatives Will Retain Grocery Meal Dollars Post-Pandemic

A CNBC article claims that “among U.S. consumers who reported permanently changed habits, 30% said they plan to spend more on grocery and 44% said they will spend less on dining out post-vaccine.” Although the outset seems hopeful, it will still be a conscious fight for grocers to retain the increased share of consumer spending post-COVID. Initiatives like healthy eating options and resources, providing the means for shoppers to continue cooking and enjoying meals in-home, and reaffirming the advantage of an in-store shopping experience are all decisive ways for retailers to maintain meal dollars as the vaccine rollout brings more consumers back to pre-COVID routines.

Stay tuned for further research on how the grocery industry can lead in post-pandemic sustainability. In the meantime, be sure to download our recent e-book report on a 2020 Consumer Survey: Taking Stock of 2020: What Grocery Retailers Need to Know About Post-Pandemic Consumer Trends. 

In this e-book, you will learn about:

  • Changes in Consumer Behavior: COVID-19
  • Embracing the Future of Omnichannel Shopping
  • Sustainability: What Consumers Expect & How Retailers Can Meet Expectations
  • In-Store Shopping vs. Online Shopping: How the Management of Expired Foods Impacts the Consumer Experience

Download the Report


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