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Mintel's Bartelme on the Needs of Pandemic-Era Consumers

Specialty Food Association

Melanie Bartelme, a global food analyst at Mintel, draws on her deep passion for food to provide insights on global innovation and consumer trends across a number of food categories.

During a session titled Understanding the Needs of the Evolving Pandemic-Era Consumer, taking place tomorrow at 11 a.m., she will cover how convenience, health, and technology have become fundamental in the lives of today's consumers.

She spoke with SFA News Daily about how the pandemic has shaped shopping habits and how retailers can keep up.

What are some surprising ways consumer shopping habits have changed in 2021?
What’s interesting about 2021 is that although much has changed, so much is the same. We know consumers are thinking about their health, about convenience, about making each meal delicious...but how they go about it may be different. The rise of the hybrid workplace, for example, may have made single-serve packaging less important for home-based workers, but that need for easy to use meal solutions remains the same regardless of where that food or drink is being consumed. The form may change, but the function is still key.

Do you have any trend predictions going into the fall and holiday season?
Consumers have become more flexible and adaptable in how they celebrate holidays as a result of COVID. Last year, we saw more virtual and smaller in-person gatherings, and that is likely to continue as consumers closely monitor COVID. They may choose to celebrate multiple times in smaller groups, such as with Friendsgivings, or they may postpone when they celebrate to begin with. Retailers and brands should remember that the holiday season may begin earlier and last longer than in the past--just look at how early pumpkin spice mania has started!

What are some tips for retailers to keep up with ever-evolving consumer habits?
Keep things flexible. Consumers’ willingness to shop, dine, and otherwise resume old routines will continue to be impacted by how the virus’ spread shifts. Consumers who one day are willing to eat inside may the next feel the need for more caution and could pivot to more in-home dining. Retailers should ensure they can meet consumers’ evolving needs, whether in person or via ecommerce.

How has technology and ecommerce affected specialty food retail in the last year and a half?
We have seen food and drink brands and retailers incorporate ecommerce and other technologies throughout the pandemic, as more consumers sought the safety and convenience that online shopping offered. What’s more, some consumers embraced more direct-to-consumer products, such as Omsom’s meal starters, Fly By Jing’s Asian condiments, and Sfoglini’s specialty pastas. Consumers may come out of the pandemic having learned that they will need to look beyond in-store shelves to find the novel new products they have been dependent on to break up the monotony of cooking at home day after day.

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