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7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food


“We are still seeing a surprisingly strong demand for dried beans,” said Vince Hayward, a member of the third generation to lead the Camellia brand, whose red kidney beans are the staple of the New Orleans table. He likes to think that demand is steady because people fell in love with beans, but he realizes that economic insecurity could be driving sales.

“I feel like we’ve experienced the earthquake, and now the tsunami’s on the way,” he said.

Frozen food is another surprise breakout. Sales initially jumped by 94 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the American Frozen Food Institute. That initial rush abated, but even in August, sales remained up almost 18 percent. Costco, whose sales are up 15 percent over August a year ago, attributes some of the growth to strong frozen food sales.

Initially, shoppers were loading their freezers in what some in the grocery business politely refer to as “the initial pantry filling.” For some consumers, frozen fruit and vegetables became a less expensive and more reliable alternative to fresh. And then there was a simple reality: Some days it is just easier to pull a meal from the freezer.

Once shoppers started exploring the freezer case, they found tastier new options.

“Frozen had a lot of momentum coming into the pandemic,” said Mr. Owen from Mintel. “A lot of the growth is coming from small brands that have healthier, clean labels or vegetarian lines. People are discovering that product quality and taste has improved.”

The fragility of the supply chain, concerns over health and safety and an appreciation of community have buoyed the movement toward food that is raised or produced locally.

Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Wyss both began ordering deliveries of eggs and milk from a local dairy, and they split a quarter of beef. There are waiting lists for community-supported agriculture subscriptions. Struggling restaurants have turned into provisioners. Grocers are teaming up with chefs to sell meal kits. Locally grown produce is selling out quickly.

It’s all part of a greater awareness about healthy eating, food waste and climate change, as well as a desire to keep money in the neighborhood.

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