We’re beginning to explore the new realities and experiences of consumers in our new pandemic-focused world through our ‘Covid & the Consumer’ series of thought-pieces. In this first article, Lucy explores how the pandemic is changing the supermarket experience during Covid-19…
Under lockdown the cultural discourse surrounding food shopping has dramatically shifted. As a result consumers’ emotional experiences and buying behaviours have radically transformed, giving way to a new kind of shopping experience.
Food Shopping & the Supermarket Experience during Covid-19
The role of food shopping for many has changed significantly: instead of just popping to the shops, shopping is now a ‘mission’.
Consumers are having to shop with pre-planned precision, devising the household’s weekly menu well ahead of time. This has led to a return to the big weekly shop, with Waitrose reporting that single meal shops are down by 70% while the average weight of a Waitrose shop has increased by 30%. Meanwhile, M&S have found that their shoppers were reverting to one shop a week rather than daily visits.
Food shopping has historically been both a creative exercise, collecting ingredients to create meals from, and an exercise in basic survival, providing the body with fuel.
However, the introduction of measures to control Coronavirus – social distancing, queues, masks – mean that food shopping has become an increasingly fraught experience centred around risk-minimisation. Customers must continually weigh up the risks (catching Coronavirus) vs the potential rewards (sustenance).
The spontaneous creative agency that consumers had become used to exercising whilst shopping – being able to make in the moment decisions, building a recipe from what is available, and shopping with others – is now not possible. Many supermarkets have introduced lanes, where shoppers have to follow a particular route throughout a shop and are unable to change their mind or double back.
Therefore, shopping has to be meticulously planned ahead and executed in order to be successful and safe.
Supermarkets’ Marketing Strategies are Changing
But how is this newfound, structured and stressful supermarket experience during Covid-19 changing brands marcomms around shopping? Initially, brands leaned into it.
In the first weeks of lock down ASDA, Tesco and Sainsburys introduced campaigns which positioned them as an authority in charge of keeping the nation safe and fed.
As lockdown has continued, supermarkets have begun to shift their focus from the safety of the nation to the creative joy of making and sharing food with loved ones
ASDA, ran a campaign with their CEO asking customers to follow their guidelines, emphasising that they were ‘all in this together’; Sainsbury’s pronounced that it was ‘working to feed the nation’; and Tesco used staff members to explain and reinforce new in store social distancing rules to ‘help protect us and you’. This marketing strategy worked to reinforce the sense of shopping as a mission, driven by risks and rewards.
However, as lockdown has continued, supermarkets have begun to shift their focus from the safety of the nation to the creative joy of making and sharing food with loved ones.
ASDA’s get your cook on campaign showcases this idea. It changes the focus from shopping trips and the supermarket experience, to in-home culinary adventures and meal creation. In the last few weeks Tesco has also focused on the social connections generated through cooking, re-introducing its #foodlovestories with a socially distanced twist.
This new marketing strategy reflects a broader trend of self-sufficiency and creativity.
Under the restrictions and rules of lockdown (which have removed MANY individual freedoms) people are finding new ways to express themselves and maintain social connections. The spate of banana bread baking and sourdough starters at the beginning of lockdown highlights how people are carving out new moments to be creative and share their creations with others.
Moving Beyond Lockdown…
So, what’s next for the supermarket experience during Covid-19?
In the short term – as lockdown eases, but restrictions still remain – supermarkets will have to balance their roles both as authorities in charge of customer safety and as enablers of creativity within the home.
However, with more and more people trying online shopping for the first time, the in-store experience is becoming less attractive.
Consequently, supermarkets might need to find new ways to bring customers back to their physical stores by offering different or premium experiences. Tesco are already considering adopting an Amazon-based model – a premium automated hub where staff/customer interaction is at a minimum.
However, in the long run, focusing on the creative act of cooking rather than the act of shopping might play to supermarkets’ favour. Recipe boxes, like Gousto and HelloFresh have been triumphing during lockdown, with customers looking for opportunities to experiment and try something new.
Even if customers do continue to shop in person, supermarkets need to be focusing on the products themselves and positioning food shopping as a fun and creative exercise in order to ensure their durability in this time of uncertainty and beyond.
Looking for more food thoughts? Check out this interview with the creators of ‘Unusual Ingredients’ – artists who are bringing together food and music to create a time machine (of sorts).