Webinar highlights how pandemic changes our relationship with food


Canadian Grocer Magazine has organized a webinar “The COVID Anniversary: Has 1 Year Changed Our Relationship with Food Forever?” to shed the light on what has changed after one year of living with a pandemic.

Nourish Food Marketing President Jo-Ann McArthur revealed the many ways in which our relationships with food purchasing, preparation, and consumption may never go back to the way they were.

“Our food system has never seen such a profound disruption as what we’ve seen over the past year, we’ve established new habits, a new way of seeing the world frankly, and so what are going to be the lasting relationship changes that we see in terms of food,” she said.

“We expect to be vaccinated. In months, I think that to say that, you know COVID going to be gone, everyone is just not true it’s not going to be a cure-all this vaccine, I think will remain vigilant to other possible pandemics and viruses. So, you know, ask yourself, will you ever look at blowing candles out on a birthday cake and then sharing the pieces with other people in quite the same way going forward. And over the last year we’ve really had to rethink how we spend our time, our energy, our money, we know that those resources are finite.”

“You know the consumer shifted a lot of their discretionary entertainment, travel budget into food is sort of a way of dealing with boredom and anxiety, and we’ve been treating ourselves to what I call splurge experiences we’ve traded up in the grocery store to prime rib because it’s, you know, more accessible than eating it in fine dining, and believe it or not, even jewelry sales are up. Now, because we have what I feel is kind of a privileged viewpoint in terms of the food and beverage ecosystem we do a trend report every year. And because we’re always doing research for our clients for ourselves, and we work across the entire food ecosystem so we have producers, processors, all the way through to food service as clients. And so I think that allows us sometimes to see and connect dots that others may not see so as a result we do a trend report and you can see that we’ve got a pretty good record these are all available for download off of our website.”

“And then we really start in 2021 as well, and it’s certainly, you know what we saw was a lot of those trends that we talked about having celebrated during this time. So what do we want from food, how has that changed. I think one of the positives, during the pandemic, is that we’ve actually rediscovered the joy of family mealtime, although we’d like a little more help getting on the table, please. But you know this revived ritual has really been the high point of the day for a number of people, and 85% of consumers say they plan to eat family meals more often or the same amount going forward post-pandemic in 77% of Canadians, agree, strongly with the statement that food, food, and eating are important ways. I stay entertained during the pandemic. Now we also know that we’re going to see food inflation rise, it’s going to be above the rate of inflation, some experts pegging it anywhere from three to 5%. And so again, finite resources, food going up.”

So what’s going to happen there? “I think we’ve also had a new understanding of what healthy means in terms of food, and it’s more about pleasure and wellbeing and that definition of health has really expanded to include mental health as part of whole health. The link between food and moods really been established during the pandemic. And so we expect that there’s going to be more accepting of those extra pounds that people put on during the pandemic and perhaps an end to the whole diet culture that we’ve, we’ve seen, and perhaps even the end of the era of the energy drink all that stress and anxiety that we’ve been dealing with has really created a new market for food and beverage products to claim to promote calm headspace relaxation sleep, these are all hot buttons, as well as resilience through improved immunity health, comfort, which you know also ties into our emotional wellbeing, that is really filling right now. Now there’s that saying in extraordinary times. We crave the ordinary. And if you look at how we’re wired as a species.”

The data shows the fastest growing attributes and benefits over the course of 2020, and we’re seeing product origin followed by societal care and lifestyle diets, and the importance of highlighting our local and Canadian was also shown in a recent FCC survey where 58% of Canadians said that they were more likely to buy Canadian made or grown foods at the start of the pandemic so certainly Canadian is a point of difference with consumers if it’s highlighted, and promote.

Jo-Ann McArthur also talked about how we source food after the pandemic, noting that online shopping exceeded expectations.

She said the figures show that 59% of Canadians claim they will continue shopping online for groceries, while 84% say they enjoy shopping in-person more than online.

The pandemic itself has helped to rediscover smaller brands, private labels as well as the rediscovery of frozen and shelf-stable.

Shellee Fitzgerald, the Editor-in-Chief Canadian Grocer, was the moderator of the webinar.



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