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COVID-19’s Impact on Food Shopping and Eating Behaviour

May 20, 2020

COVID-19 is a global pandemic and we feel its impact every day, across every aspect of our lives. “Normal” shopping and eating routines are things of the past. There are widespread changes in how we buy food, how we feel about food, and what we eat. But old habits die hard and for some, rather than buying their favourite ‘vices’, they are learning to make them at home.

Consumers are concerned about a wide range of issues. Current health and long-term immunity, financial concerns, even how to cook the food that is available, people are thinking more about food. Generally, people are doing less shopping and more cooking.

According to a survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, four in 10 people are buying more shelf-stable, packaged foods, but most haven’t changed their opinion on the healthfulness of these products. Interestingly, 22% of consumers now believe packaged food to be healthier than they did before, while 10% said that they think packaged foods are less healthy.

Research from FMCG Gurus found that 76% of consumers across the globe say that they are “concerned about the coronavirus”. At a time when 63% of consumers believe the world is heading towards severe recession, going ‘back to diet basics’ is trustworthy and affordable: 58% of consumers aim to eat more fruit, 45% aim to reduce their sugar intake, 37% want to eat more protein, whilst 59% are more conscious of their health. As a result of COVID-19, 73% of consumers say “they plan to eat and drink healthier”. However, having a plan and actually eating healthier are not the same thing. Once again, we see a disconnect between what nutrition experts say and what the public hear.

Eating habits have changed, too. Nearly half (47%) of survey takers said that they were eating more home-cooked meals than one month ago. In the same FMCH Gurus survey, 27% of respondents said that they’ve been snacking more, 15% say they’re eating more or more often than usual, while 13% say they’re eating less or less often than usual. Just 2 in 10 said that their eating habits haven’t changed.  

Data from Google Trends has revealed that recipes for banana bread, cinnamon rolls and home-brews have spiked – and shelves are empty of instant yeast and flour. Many consumers are concerned about the impact that COVID-19 is having on their mental health and are turning to food for comfort.

Amarjit Sahota, founder and CEO of Ecovia Intelligence, said in response to increased sales of organic foods: “Whenever there is a food or health scare, consumers look at disease prevention and improving nutrition. Organic foods get a sales boost as they are perceived to be healthier and safer than conventional foods.” 

With all the diet and nutrition information in the media, it’s not always clear how to distinguish fact from fiction. As Healthcare professionals we have a responsibility to not only help our clients make healthy food choices, but also to dispel the many food myths around immunity.

Most people walking through a supermarket or health shop are tempted to buy everything that promises to “support your immune system” or “maintain its healthy function”. So tempting – especially now- but they don’t work. The idea that any dietary supplement can boost your immunity makes very little scientific sense.

The way the human body deals with the invading pathogens and infections has nothing to do with the ‘superfoods’ that claim to offer protection. “People have this idea that the immune system is some kind of internal force field that can be boosted or patched up,” says Charles Bangham, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Imperial College London. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. As the name suggests it’s not a single thing but a system incorporating many organs and biological functions.”

So what can we do to avoid getting ill?

  • Stick to a healthy diet
  • Have regular light exercise
  • Personal hygiene is crucial
  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t cough or sneeze over people and food
  • Keep surfaces nice and clean

Basically, everything that your mom told you to do.