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Has COVID-19 changed our shopping habits forever?

COVID-19 is having a significant impact in supermarket aisles around Aotearoa, new research by United Fresh shows.

Empty shelves, food shortages, masks and socially distanced queues make the weekly shop seem like a sci-fi dystopia compared to the care free days of the ‘old normal’ before the pandemic.

In 2019, less than 10 percent of Kiwis shopped for their groceries online. Over the last year to June 2021, 34 percent of New Zealand households shopped for groceries online with supermarkets seeing a 44 percent increase in online sales. Almost three-quarters of this growth has come from new online shoppers.

Shoppers keen to avoid the pandemic-related stress of shopping in person have embraced home shopping with the research finding the average Kiwi household shops online 11 times a year, spending a total of $1800 per year with an average of $162 per shop.

New Zealanders still prefer to shop in person for our 5+ A Day, for every 10 online purchases of fresh produce, there are 77 made in store. Although it seems counter-intuitive to the COVID message of touching as little as possible and staying masked-up, the ability to use the senses to select produce remains important for shoppers.

New Zealanders now shop less frequently and spend more with each shop. Comparing the second quarter of 2021 to the rolling two-year average, shoppers visited the supermarket six percent less often and spent six percent more with each shop.

By June this year, 62 percent of the Kiwi shoppers surveyed felt financially constrained, with about a third of those in difficulty due to the pandemic. As a result, almost 24 percent of New Zealanders are cooking at home more often with many noting that cooking at home is cheaper, tastier, and healthier than eating out.

As shoppers look to save money during their shop, supermarket own brands have become more popular. To save time and avoid going out to eat, shoppers are increasingly opting for pre-prepared food boxes and meal kits.

Only 30 percent of those surveyed in June said that their shopping habits had remained unchanged in the wake of COVID-19. Delta’s arrival is likely to increase the number of New Zealanders facing financial constraints and lead to further changes.

Whether we ever return to the ‘old normal’ looks unlikely as these substantial behaviour changes become ingrained habits, even for those Kiwis who have not been financially affected by the pandemic.

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