Change – this word seems to be the best reflection of 2021 in the context of customer choices. Why? Because everything has changed. Literally and metaphorically.
The surrounding has changed, the shopping habits have changed, the mode of shopping and people’s affluence as well… Or maybe it is just the priorities that have changed? And, speaking about priorities, it is worth mentioning another important word, inseparably connected with the time of the pandemic, and sometimes with the post-pandemic time too: health. A consumer in 2021 is a consumer who chooses health. Or at least declares to do so. Yet, as usual, there are two sides to the coin.
We eat healthier; we reach more often for ecological products; we limit our alcohol consumption; we eat less meat, choosing that of better quality; we look for vegetarian or vegan variants; even though we are not inclined to radically change our nutritional habits, we gradually shift to good and better choices. The ideas of clean label and zero waste are no longer just fashionable slogans to show off on social media but real attitudes building good nutritional habits.
Moreover, it is worth paying attention to the fact that consumers have changed their decisions and certain shopping habits during the pandemic period. They would purchase much more products for home cooking and baking than before. Interestingly, during the pandemic, the category of products for cooking developed sales faster than ready meals. This is obviously due to the fact that we have been recently spending much more time at home than before. Our homes have become our places of work, study, cooking, sport and entertainment.
The other side of the coin is much darker. Dieticians are ringing alarm bells! 50% of Poles are overweight or obese. The pandemic has significantly aggravated this phenomenon; we stayed at home more often, we led a less active lifestyle, and consequently, we snacked more between meals. Unfortunately, the pandemic has intensified the problem of obesity in children. There is also an increase in the scale of incidences of type 2 diabetes, i.e. the diet-related variant, resulting from poor eating.
However, let us focus on the reports resulting from market research. What was the consumer like in 2021, what was your consumer like? Judge it for yourselves.
Food quality before price
As shown by The Conscious Consumer report prepared by the Deloitte consulting company, an average of six out of ten respondents, having to choose between a healthier product and a favourably-priced one, would choose the former. Among the surveyed countries, the highest percentage of such attitudes was observed in Poland (79%). “The price still plays a very important role all across Europe. However, when facing the choice between buying a cheaper product and a healthier one, they pick the latter. Fair trade foods enjoy less popularity. Seven out of ten surveyed, choosing between a commodity produced in accordance with the sustainable development principles and one at a lower price, would decide in favour of cheaper shopping. It is no wonder that respondents with higher income and higher education are more inclined to buy organic foods,” says Kamil Kucharczyk, Deputy Director of the Financial Consulting Department at Deloitte.
Healthy foods, ready products, less meat – this is how one could briefly sum up the shopping trends of consumers in the passing year of 2021. The shopping habits of the Poles were largely connected with the pandemic and the fact that many Polish consumers had changed their nutritional habits. “During the pandemic and lockdown, many Polish consumers would prepare meals at home and they had plenty of time to check the composition of products and to read the label more cautiously than before. The Poles want to eat more healthy, which is why food producers, fitting in with this trend, have greatly increased the availability of bio, eco, gluten-free or lactose-free products,” comments Katarzyna Staneta, Group Account Manager at ASM Sales Force Agency.
Before, we could usually find such goods in individual stores, at fairs, in specialist trade chains, or online, but in 2021, they have also conquered large chains. Stores successfully exhibit them on shelves, giving them more and more surface area. For instance, the Nielsen report shows that at Carrefour Polska, sales of ecologic foods in 2020 grew by as much as 24%, which is a substantial amount and this growth should be expected to be even higher in 2021.
What is rising, and what is falling?
The gradual departure of the Polish people from meat products has been a very significant trend in the passing year. The “Trends in Nutritional Habits of the Poles 2021” survey shows that the percentage of vegetarians in Poland remains stable and low. Only 2% of Poles identify as vegetarians. However, 17% of us do eat meat, yet try to limit the amount. This percentage should be expected to increase year by year, also due to climate protection issues. As noted by Katarzyna Staneta, manufacturers offer an alternative in the form of an increasing range of plant-based meat substitutes – this is the greatest trend of the current year. Vegetable dried sausages, vegetable blood sausage, or meatless cold cuts – this is just the beginning of the producers’ ideas to attract vegetarian customers. Bio products enjoy increasing interest. The leading goods in this category are foodstuffs for children, plant yogurts and beverages, as well as products from the category of juices, nectars, still drinks. “The clean label idea will be this year’s trend and possibly the next one’s too. It assumes that a consumer selects products free of additives from a long list marked with an »E«. Thus, customers decide to purchase products that are healthier to them. Consumers expect products with artificial ingredients replaced by natural substitutes, and there is no turning back from this change,” says an expert at ASM Sales Force Agency.
Last year saw an increase in consumption of fruit (54%) and vegetables (59%), especially in countries where the health aspect is a crucial factor in the choice of foodstuffs. Of special interest is Poland, where 74% of the people admitted they had reached for fruit and vegetables more often (77%) – as the Deloitte report shows1. Higher awareness and concern for health have also altered the consumer behaviour. As much as 45% of Europeans admit they have consumed less meat over the last year. An average of 39% of the surveyed claimed they had eaten more ecologic products than before. Moreover, 48% stated they had drunk less alcohol over the last 12 months. This can be also connected with less frequent social meetings, caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, one can notice that Poland is at the forefront of countries which have limited their alcohol consumption to the greatest extent (59% of the surveyed have declared to have done so).
Ecological and regional
The concern about the environment and search for safety have become important decisive factors in consumer choices since the outbreak of the pandemic. The sense of common social responsibility has arisen, along with satisfaction that we create the “new normality” together and feel an increasing sense of influence on our own future, the local community, and the entire planet.
“The increasingly aware consumers all across Europe make pro-ecology choices more and more frequently during their food shopping. Among other things, this is manifested by the use of their own multi-use bags – declared by 90% people in Poland – as well as the selection of local products and readiness to pay more for them. The habits are changing too: the participants of the survey declare they cook at home more often, drink less alcohol, limit meat consumption and avoid ordering ready meals due to the use of plastic packaging,” says Irena Pichola, a partner and leader of the Team of Sustainable Development in Poland and Central Europe.
Over the last year, many Europeans have chosen regional goods (60%), originating from sustainable crops and produced in accordance with the idea of fair trade. The crucial factor is the willingness to support local suppliers, the possibility of purchasing fresh products, and their availability. Most European respondents (74%) are willing to bear additional costs (a minimum of 5%) for the purchase of food and locally-produced goods. Among all participants of the survey, 72% (the same percentage for Poland) were ready to pay more for food coming from sustainable crops and farming, as well as for fair-trade products2.
A shift in priorities?
The pandemic has significantly altered the balance of power regarding the main motivators behind the shopping decisions in the categories of food and beverages. The Mintel data of October 2021 show that 25% of respondents in Poland are currently spending more on food (excluding meals ordered from restaurants), while 33% less on eating out. One can notice a reduction of expenses on non-essential needs (45% of positive answers) and spending less time in stores (42%). Polish consumers increasingly do their shopping online (35%) and avoid paying in cash (38%).
Health – both as a shopping factor and as a mode of positioning – has considerably gained on importance. In response, more and more functional solutions are appearing on the market. Based on the analysis of data from Mintel’s Global New Products Database, over the 12 months until October 2021, the leading functional solutions utilized in new food products in Europe were those giving a shot of energy, supporting the immune system, as well as strengthening the nervous system and cognitive abilities.
“Apart from health, the pleasure aspect remains very significant, especially in relation to the needs connected with stress management and reduction of the sense of anxiety. Almost one third of Polish respondents declare they reach for snacks for this very reason, to relax and get rid of stress. However, health and pleasure have to be affordable. Cautious spending is becoming an increasingly common practice. On the Polish market, consumer declarations indicate that 44% of the respondents try to plan their meals. Almost two fifths of them purchase larger amounts of discounted products and select ingredients that can be used in many dishes. A similar percentage declare to reach for private labels as a part of saving tactics,” summarizes Honorata Jarocka, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at the Mintel Institute.
Shopping patriotism is valued
According to the latest research conducted on request of the “Teraz Polska” (Poland Now) Polish Promotional Logo Foundation, consumers in their everyday shopping are guided by the quality, price and origin of the products3.
Polish consumers put quality first during their shopping, followed by the price of products and services. Such a trend has been observed invariably since 2017, when a change at the leading position had been recorded for the first time. Answering the question, “What is most important to you during everyday shopping?”, 77% of the surveyed mentioned quality, while price was indicated by almost 73% of the respondents. As the following factors, consumers would mention: country of origin (27.4%), ecological values (23.4%), quality labels on the product (14.7%), and packaging (10.1%).
Comparing the obtained results with those from the previous year, one can notice that quality and price still remain the main factors considered while making shopping decisions. The largest growth (by 2 and 4 percentage points, respectively) was recorded by the country of origin and the quality labels on the product. The survey shows that consumers pay slightly less attention to the packaging appearance itself than in the previous year, yet they pay more and more attention to the contents of the label, such as the composition, origin, or certificates.
Food shopping? Stationary!
According to the KPMG survey describing a consumer in the age of COVID-19, the Polish people usually do their food shopping at stationary stores. Despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, 6 out of 10 Poles have seen no reason or necessity to give up on doing food shopping at stationary stores. However, it is worth stressing that a part of the surveyed also used online channels in that period – 29% admitted they had been buying food products via a website. The situation is completely different in the case of non-food shopping. Only 29% of Poles during the COVID-19 pandemic have done such shopping at stationary stores.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 66% of Poles did not give up on food shopping at stationary stores. The most important factor considered in the case of food shopping is the location of the store. 70% of the surveyed paid attention to it. Slightly less respondents (63% of indications) paid attention to the possibility of seeing the product for themselves. The price of the offered goods occupied the 4th position and it does not seem to have played any crucial role in decisions about the choice of the shopping channel in the case of food products.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a half of all Poles have limited their food-shopping visits to stores to a necessary minimum. Food shopping at stationary stores is usually declared by Poles at the age of 55-69 – 78% of them had seen no necessity to give up on this form of shopping. On the other hand, the largest group (43% of indications) of Poles whom the pandemic has prompted to limit their visits to stationary stores in order to do their food shopping are people aged 25-39. Men, more often than women, declare they visit stores with no restrictions4.
Smaller trade outlets, located close to home, have rapidly started attracting new customers during the pandemic, being considered safer than hypermarkets. Convenient, quick and safe shopping – this is what has counted the most and has prevailed over the final cash receipt value. There are predictions that even when the epidemic subsides, the trend of shift towards stores located close to home will continue to grow. Shop owners have to keep their fingers on the pulse and care not only for the most relevant offer but also for the safety principles.
Back to the past?
A return to the past, or, more exactly, to the pre-pandemic reality, is not 100% possible. Many “changes” are here to stay forever.
For many years, the trends on the food market have been aimed at health properties of foodstuffs. The market has evolved significantly; the last 2 years, although they had been hard, not only for the industry but for each individual person, have also had a “positive” overtone. This is a risky statement, but given the latest reports connected with consumer behaviour or culinary trends, one can draw such conclusions. Judge it for yourselves.
Monika Górka, Managing Editor
1 Source: A study of consumer behaviour in supermarkets, conducted by Deloitte, covered 17,000 respondents from 15 European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
2 Source: The Conscious Consumer report by the Deloitte consulting company.
3 Source: The Conscious Consumer report by the Deloitte consulting company.
4 Source: KPMG, Nowa rzeczywistość: konsument w dobie COVID-19 [A New Reality: A Consumer in the Age of COVID-19], 2020.