EIT Food, Europe’s leading food innovation initiative supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), today published a new report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer food behaviours.
A survey of 5,000 consumers in ten European countries shows lockdown measures may have caused lasting behaviour change in relation to food consumption – marked by substantial shifts in shopping patterns, meal preparation and eating habits. The research was carried out by a consortium of leading universities in Europe, led by Aarhus University, Denmark. The ten countries surveyed were Spain, Sweden, Germany, UK, Poland, Italy, France, Greece, Finland, Romania.
The new report comes just months after the European Commission published its landmark Farm to Fork strategy, calling for the creation of a food environment that makes it easier for consumers to choose healthy and sustainable diets, while having access to sufficient and affordable food. As Europe recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a unique opportunity for industry to engage with consumers and build on rising health and sustainability trends.
Professor Klaus Grunert, Head of Section of the Department of Management at Aarhus University, said:
“Our research shows that COVID-19 has changed the way people think about, purchase, plan and consume their food. The silver lining during this pandemic has been the rise of various positive trends, particularly around sustainability and health. The industry has a real opportunity to innovate to meet consumer needs, for instance through new experiences for consumers to enjoy food at home or tailoring their online experience to new ways of shopping.”
Changes in consumer food behaviours across Europe
Consumers across Europe suffered financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. A third of respondents (34%) lost part or all of their income and more than half (55%) said they found it difficult to make ends meet every month.
Despite this, European consumers reported buying more in almost every food category, as COVID-19 lockdowns and a rise in homeworking across Europe led to people spending more time at home and eating out less.
The largest behavioural shift was the way we shop, with nearly half of consumers reporting an increase in online shopping (45%); bulk purchases (47%); and carefully planned shopping trips (45%).
European consumers are also spending more time in the kitchen with over a third (36%) reporting that they have enjoyed spending time cooking during lockdown. Sharing this experience with others became more important too, with three in ten (29%) sitting down to eat together as a household more regularly.
Lasting habits post pandemic
According to the survey, the increased significance that food has played in our lives will continue after lockdown measures are lifted. Nearly a third of consumers said it will be more important to have time to cook home-made meals (27%) and to continue eating more varied foods (30%) after the pandemic.
While affordability will remain a priority for many, with 32% saying that access to food at low prices will be more important, it should not come at the cost of health and good nutrition. On the contrary, almost half of consumers (49%) said being in good health will be more important to them as a result of COVID-19.
In addition to prioritising their own health, European consumers reported a number of changes that could have a positive impact on the health of the planet. For example, over a third (35%) said that buying locally produced food has become more important to them during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it seems the trend for shopping locally is set to continue, with almost nine in ten (87%) reporting that they were very likely to continue doing so in the future.
Saskia Nuijten, Director of Communication and Public Engagement at EIT Food, stated:
“The fragility of our food system was brought into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. European consumers changed how they shopped and consumed food almost overnight, and there are no signs of going back to ‘business as usual’ after lockdown measures lift. This study shows consumers are hopeful for better access to affordable food that will benefit both the planet and their health. It is one of the opportunities the industry can act on as we reflect on how to build a better food system from farm to fork.
“The solutions will rely on collaborative, cross-sector partnerships, and we look forward to continuing to work with partners to accelerate the transition to a food system that’s fit for the future.”
EIT Food, supported by EIT, has been assisting the agrifood sector during the pandemic to help the development of a resilient and sustainable food future. As part of the EIT’s Crisis Response Initiative, EIT Food is delivering over €10 million in funding for high impact startups and projects to support the European agrifood sector through the pandemic.
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About the study
The project ‘How the COVID-19 crisis affects consumer behaviour and consumer demand for food products and services’ was coordinated by Aarhus University and included project partners Queens University Belfast, University of Helsinki, KU Leuven, University of Warsaw, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Spanish National Research Council (CSCI).
The project received funding from EIT Food, the innovation community on Food of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the EU, under the Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.
Consumer data was collected by an online survey carried out through Aistila Oy (www.aistila.fi), a research company. Data collection was conducted in 10 European countries (Spain, Sweden, Germany, UK, Poland, Italy, France, Greece, Finland, Romania) in the period between 17th to 25th of September 2020. A total of 5,000 adult consumers (18+) were surveyed, 500 per country, meeting the criteria of being responsible or co-responsible for grocery shopping.
About EIT Food
EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, with the aim to create a sustainable and future-proof food sector.
The initiative is made up of a consortium of key industry players, startups, research centres and universities from across Europe. It is one of eight Innovation Communities established by the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT), an independent EU body set up in 2008 to drive innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.
EIT Food aims to collaborate closely with consumers to develop new knowledge and technology-based products and services that will ultimately deliver a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle for all European citizens.
EIT Food has created the RisingFoodStars Association, which serves as an umbrella for high potential agrifood startups and scaleups, to support and nurture a select group of young companies. The Association is a partner of EIT Food and as such allows its members to participate in all EIT Food activities, thus contributing to the delivery of EIT Food’s strategic objectives.