- Most U.S. adults in a survey don’t expect a “return to normal” this fall, with half saying food shopping is as stable as it’s going to be for the near future, according to the newly released U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Tracker from the Food Industry Association (FMI) and the Hartman Group.
- The findings, which reflect the impact of the pandemic on U.S. grocery shopping perceptions and behaviors, found that having vaccine and mask requirements for both staff and shoppers almost doubled the number of respondents who would feel acceptably safe at stores to 77%.
- What retailers do about safety can make a difference, with 87% of respondents saying hygiene or distancing measures can make in-store shopping more attractive.
As the delta variant spreads and COVID-19 cases surge again, shoppers are feeling ambivalent about their return to in-store shopping, according to the research.
One-third of respondents believe normalcy will return no sooner than next year, while one-sixth expect to see normalcy between now and the end of 2021.
The survey of 1,617 adult shoppers in the U.S., conducted from Aug. 2-8, found concerns about COVID-19 persist but are at the lowest levels recorded since the pandemic started, with 53% saying they are extremely or very concerned — down from 64% in February.
At 60%, an increasing number of U.S. adults think food shopping in-person is safe — up from 50% in February. But hesitancy remains, with shoppers reporting fewer in-store trips and time spent there per visit than pre-pandemic.
Respondents said they are more concerned about getting sick from other shoppers (40%) than from touching shopping carts (30%), store employees (29%) or surface contamination (28%). Less than one-quarter said they are worried about spreading illness.
During the height of the first wave of COVID-19 cases last year, grocers implemented a number of safety measures, including floor stickers reminding customers to stand six feet apart or indicating one-way aisles, more sanitizing and cleaning of different surfaces, and handing out masks to shoppers. With the COVID-19 cases increasing amid the spread of the delta variant, some jurisdictions are bringing back mask mandates, forcing grocers to think about health measures again.
The report noted that health measures by grocers can boost how comfortable shoppers feel with venturing out in person. Of the things food retailers can do to attract in-store customers, respondents said they want to see the store kept clean and sanitized (60%), sanitizing or disinfecting wipes available for carts (53%) and more sanitization efforts throughout the store (48%). Other measures included more sanitization efforts at checkout (45%), social distancing efforts (43%) and masks provided to customers (41%).
Meanwhile, online shopping has held onto its expanded size, which has been driven by Gen Z and millennial shoppers but is also adding users from older generations, the report noted. During the last 12 months, 63% of shoppers bought groceries online at least occasionally, while 14% did every time they shopped, the report said.
“While those using online ‘almost every time’ has dropped off somewhat from a February high, this online-centric group is still almost twice as large as before the pandemic,” the report said.