Consumer Habits: The Pandemic Shopper

Six months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, grocery shoppers in the U.S. are still spending more on groceries each month while taking fewer trips to the store. In August, per trip spending increased by 6%, while trips were 11% lower in August of  2019. 

“Our data scientists and advanced analytics teams have been mining Catalina’s unparalleled Buyer Intelligence Database, which captures up to three years of purchase history and more than two billion Universal Product Codes that are scanned daily in the U.S., to track how buying behavior and decisions have continued to shift since concerns over COVID-19 took hold earlier this year,” said Marta Cyhan, Catalina’s Chief Marketing Officer. “These real-time insights have helped our retail and brand customers adjust their marketing, media and activation strategies, while also helping to inform their stocking and supply chain decisions.”

While reviewing their data from the past six months, Catalina noted that shoppers made more trips to the grocery store in March as fear for the pandemic rose, then dramatically reduced their number of trips in April as they followed local and national stay-at-home orders. The number of grocery store visits has since decreased 10% from May through August as consumers adapted to the “new normal” of life in the COVID-19 era. Specifically:

  • Shoppers made an average of 6.7 retailer trips per month in Aug. 2020, down from 7.5 retailer trips per month compared to Aug. 2019, a decrease of nearly 11%.
  • Shoppers are making larger retailer trips, spending an average of $49.28 per trip in Aug. 2020, up from $41.38 in Aug. 2019, an increase of 19%. This has been consistent since June.
  • Overall, shoppers are spending more at your typical grocery store this year vs. last year: an average of $330 per month in Aug. 2020 vs. $310 last year. The difference was even more dramatic in March-May, before starting to come down in June.

In early April, Catalina launched a COVID-19 Interactive Map on its website to report sales data across 78 major grocery and drug categories from states across the U.S., plus the District of Columbia, going back to the week ending Feb. 15 when coronavirus awareness and concerns began to gain traction in the U.S.

The most recent data pull shows the country overall is seemingly populated by more health-conscious bakers (coincidence that 75% of the country has gained weight since the lockdown?) with a penchant for bacon of the light, turkey or chicken variety (continuing a decline in pork bacon sales that began before the pandemic).  

The top six categories overall for the six months beginning in March through August 2020 include:

  • Liquid Hand Soaps – up 268%
  • Home Health Testing Kits (includes Face Masks)– up 259%
  • Disinfectant Cleaners – up 212%
  • Frozen Meal Starters – up 189%
  • Meat Substitutes (Shelf-Stable and Refrigerated) – up 126%
  • Yeast (Dry & Refrigerated) – 117%

Most notably, face masks account for 80% of the home health testing category as a response to more governing bodies emphasizing the importance of wearing face coverings to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

“Due to the pandemic, many new buyers came into center store categories that were declining in 2019. We are partnering with our clients to convert those buyers from panic buyers to loyal buyers,” added Cyhan. “We will continue to monitor our Buyer Intelligence Database to keep our customers informed of changing shopping behaviors and sales impacts, including when purchase cycles become more predictable, because this will have a big impact on supply chains and give marketers and retailers valuable insights on how and when to best market their brands.”