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PMA Virtual Town Hall

Consumer pandemic trends: Ecommerce, local produce, and health-focused foods

This week’s PMA Virtual Town Hall focused on consumer trends. What trends have emerged during the pandemic, how can producers, growers, and retailers use these trends to better service the consumers, and are these trends here to stay? The three most important trends discussed by the panel were those of ecommerce, local produce, and health foods.

Ecommerce growth drives innovation
The first trend is ecommerce. Some consumers have to stay at home under full lockdown, and others have to work within the restrictions inside grocery stores designed to maintain social distancing. This has led to reduced trips to stores and has brought with it an upsurge of online ordering for groceries. This has challenged everyone in the industry to rethink the supply chain, their business models, and how they are getting their products to the consumers.

It is important to keep in mind that the effectivity of ecommerce is highly dependent on the context it is in – certain countries, regions, or communities have the right infrastructure in place to quickly pivot toward accommodating increased online purchases while others have had more difficulty making this switch. Overall, consumers are craving new ways to get their products in a safe manner, and this has led to an increase in innovations and a catalyzed use of robotics and artificial intelligence.

While this trend has seen an enormous upsurge in the past two months, the question is if it will last. The panel discussed whether the ecommerce trend is driven more by a need for convenience, or a need for safety. If the trend is driven by risk aversion, then it is likely that it will not last beyond the spans of the pandemic – however, this is likely not the case, or at least not fully. The trend towards ecommerce was already up-and-coming before the outbreak, and while its growth has been catalyzed by the pandemic, it will likely stay a part of people’s shopping habits, though to what extent remains to be seen.

Local produce: transparency and supporting the community
The local produce trend was also already in its growing stages before the pandemic hit. Now, it has become very popular with consumers in North America. Two of the main reasons cited for this are that of safety and that of supporting the community. Food that is grown locally seems safer to consumers because they know where it originated, and they feel as if they have a better understanding of what the food went through to get to them. Besides this, the consumers also feel that they are helping out the local community by supporting the growers around them during these difficult times.

While there is much local produce on offer, there is, of course, also much produce that has been sourced abroad. The way to navigate this trend even if you don’t offer local produce is to build a story around your sourcing and distribution. Communication with the consumer about where the product came from while help assuage the worries about the safety of the food, and helping the consumer understand your company’s value will help them feel that they are still offering support – though it might be to a community a bit further from home.

Demand for health foods provides many opportunities
The pandemic has brought health and immunity to the forefront of everyone’s minds and foods that are high in vitamins, antioxidants, and more, are seeing spikes in demand. For the produce industry, this can provide enormous opportunities. Tracking the consumer trends to highlight how your products fit in with the current demand is an important strategy.

Finally, it is important to be aware of the societal structures in which the consumers live. The infection rate in the communities, but also the community’s cultural values and beliefs, and the extent of the economic impact in the community are all factors that will affect not only consumer behavior, but will also allow companies to plan for a more long-term strategy to ensure that the consumers continue to feel safe enough to come out and return to restaurants and stores.


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