Canadians will continue to cook up a storm post-pandemic
As Canadians found themselves homebound and languished this past year as result of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, many discovered or rediscovered the joys of preparing home-cooked meals from scratch. Deloitte Canada’s recent report, The conflicted consumer: 2021 food consumer survey, explores the changing preferences, consumption habits, and expectations of Canadian consumers. On top of a passion for home cooking, Canadians are more health conscious than ever before and in turn, are looking to brands and producers to use healthy ingredients with easy-to-understand ingredient lists to support not only their cooking routine but their health and wellness as well.
The latest Deloitte Canada survey showed that during the pandemic, 63 per cent of Canadians cooked dinner from scratch four to six times per week with two thirds of Canadians stating they cooked more meals at home than pre-pandemic. This surge in home cooking has also drastically changed what Canadians buy at the grocery store and can be seen with 85 per cent of Canadians spending more on fresh produce during lockdown and roughly 40 per cent said they spent less on baked desserts, prepared ingredients, and hot ready-to-eat meals.
It is unlikely that this trend will abate in 2021, Canadians plan to continue to cook from home in high proportions even after the health crisis relaxes. Canadians also plan to continue to keep the healthy eating habits they developed in lockdown. Overall, spending on food and other grocery items will remain robust in 2021 as consumers look to buy nutritious and locally sourced foods.
It’s more than just buying healthier food options however – nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of consumers said that in the past year, they’ve grown more interested in how their diets affect their overall health and immunity. This rise in wellness consciousness and the increase in home cooking has shifted the purchasing priorities of consumers in several ways – products that topped the list of household food purchases included those that were locally sourced (43 per cent), had recognizable ingredients (33 per cent), were natural or organic (31 per cent) and offered sugar-reduced versions (35 per cent). Customers’ priorities have shifted during the pandemic and more Canadians are now conscious of the safety and transparency of product formulations and ingredients.
On their mission to consume healthier foods, Canadians also want to “do good” for the environment and are considering the environmental impact of their food choices now more than ever before. With this comes unique challenges for consumers with the wide array of contradicting food, nutrition, and sustainability narratives. Overall, 72 per cent of respondents say they prefer to shop at food retailers that have strong sustainability and ethical practices. A further 33 per cent say they’d purchase more from brands that responded to the pandemic with ethical actions and behaviours. Nimble food retailers and producers are responding to this by pivoting their product marketing, revisiting their corporate communication strategies, simplifying ingredient lists, and offering minimal or no packaging – but there is more work to be done from the industry to help Canadians on their journey to make more informed food choices.
With the rise of the home chef comes the need to find culinary inspiration. Aside from friends and family, Canadians are increasingly gaining inspiration for their meals from online searches, cooking shows, and social media platforms. Interestingly, 21 per cent of consumers are also turning to grocery retailers’ websites and product displays for meal inspirations as they add new recipes to their rotation. However, producers and grocery retailers need to tailor these recipes to meet the consumer’s demand for healthier, more sustainable food choices. In the Deloitte Canada survey, 79 per cent of consumers said that they are spending more on plant-based milks and other non-dairy products and 72 per cent reported an increase in purchases of alternative meat products. As these new food preferences form and home cooking increases, the desire for healthy meal inspiration will continue to grow. However, meal inspiration needs to meet consumers where they are in their health journeys and be current with the dietary trends. Food retailers and producers need to take note and capitalize on these trends to remain competitive in the market.
As we slowly begin to return to our pre-pandemic habits and ways of living, the desire to make healthy meals from scratch will remain and it will be up to food retailers and producers to listen Canadians and meet their needs as they continue to shift towards healthier and more sustainable food choices.
Marty Weintraub is national retail leader at Deloitte Canada.