It has been just over one month since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, a global pandemic. To capture what is known on the widespread changes in how people buy food, how they feel about food safety and, ultimately, what they eat, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) conducted a consumer research survey, which was fielded on April 6-7.
Most people are confident in the safety of the food supply and the ability for food producers to meet their needs, IFIC found in its survey of 1,000 consumers. Eighty-two percent of survey takers said they are confident that the food they are buying is safe, with 39% being very confident and 43% somewhat confident.
This number is even higher than IFIC reported in its "2019 Food & Health Survey" in which they asked, “Overall, how confident are you in the safety of the U.S. food supply?”
At this point, just more than a year ago, 68% were confident in the safety of our food supply (53% somewhat confident and 15% very confident). In this most recent survey, 77% projected confidence in the ability of food producers to supply enough food to meet consumer needs for the month ahead (31% very confident and 46% somewhat confident).
White, college-educated survey takers were more likely to be confident, while Hispanic/Latin and non-college-educated respondents were less so.
As expected with social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions, people are doing less shopping in person and are cooking more.
When asked how their food shopping habits have changed over the past month (from early March to early April), half of all survey takers reported shopping in person less, and nearly four in 10 said they were buying more shelf-stable pantry foods and buying more groceries each time they shopped.
At the same time, nearly half (47%) of survey takers said they were eating more home-cooked meals than one month ago. Nearly one in three reported that they were ordering less takeout or delivery than usual, while 16% say they were ordering in more often than they used to.
Four in 10 people are buying more packaged foods, but most haven’t changed their opinion on the healthfulness of these products. Forty-two percent of survey takers reported buying more packaged foods than usual over the past month, while the same number said their packaged foods purchases haven’t changed. Those under age 45 were more likely to up their packaged foods purchases; the same age group also reported buying more frozen foods than those ages 45-64 and 65-plus. At the same time, 59% of people said they haven’t changed their perceptions on the healthfulness of packaged foods, 22% said they now believe them to be healthier than they did before, while 10% said they think packaged foods are less healthy.
Eating habits have changed, too. More than one-quarter (27%) said they’ve been snacking more, and 15% said they’re eating more or more often than usual. The same number of people said they’re eating healthier food than usual, while 13% said they’re eating less or less often than usual. Just two in 10 said their eating habits haven’t changed.
The health of other shoppers and grocery store employees, as well as running out of staple foods, are the most concerning parts of food shopping, IFIC said.
Forty-two percent of respondents said they were most worried about the health of other shoppers, while 37% were worried about the health of store employees.
Running out of staple items was a concern for over one-quarter of respondents (28%). Running out of healthy food (9%) and not knowing how to prepare the foods they had available (5%) were less common answers, but they were more likely to be selected by the youngest age bracket (those under 45).