Just a few months ago, Sue Smith considered herself a healthy eater. He eats salad with water spinach and quinoa. He counts calories. He removes processed sugar from his food. He avoids milk products.
But in the past month, when the coronavirus pandemic made its home at home, Ms. Smith, a writer in Los Angeles, started shopping – and eating – completely different.
During a trip to the grocery store, he bought SpaghettiOs. He threw two large boxes of Goldfish crackers into his shopping basket. And he consumes milk.
“I ate ice cream. Ice cream,” said Ms. Smith. “And tonight, I made spinach artichoke lasagna. There is so much milk in it. But I just need the comfort I get from the food now. “
As coronavirus closure continues throughout the United States, two developing trends involving how people eat – increasing the amount of money spent on food outside the home and increasing purchases of fresh or organic foods at grocery stores – have reversed. Many restaurants close, and shoppers take frozen pizza and a box of cereals instead of organic vegetables and whole grains.
That’s good news for big food companies like Kraft Heinz and J.M. Smucker, who has struggled in recent years to adapt when Americans stay away from large quantities of processed foods. Now, in times of crisis, buyers are turning to old standbys that they might not have had for years or even decades.
Many big food businesses like Campbell Soup Company, which has experienced a steady decline in soup sales in the last two years, now Upgrade production and temporary wage increases for hourly employees to meet higher demand. Last month, Campbell’s soup sales jumped 59 percent from a year earlier. Prego’s pasta sauce increased 52 percent, and sales of its Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers rose by almost 23 percent.
As well as, Kraft Heinz, whose products have fallen far out of favor with consumers, resulting in a massive drop in Kraft’s natural cheese values and Oscar Mayer’s cold cutting business a year ago, told investors last week that several factories worked three shifts to meet high demand for products such as macaroni and cheese. The company’s shares rose on Tuesday after saying first-quarter sales would rise 3 percent.
And Conagra Brands, which has reported a more than 5 percent decline in net sales for the quarter ended February 23, said shipments to retailers and in-store sales in March had grown by 50 percent as demand increased for Slim Jim’s jerky snack, Birds Eye frozen vegetables and Chef Boyardee’s pasta.
“We save the entire Chef Boyardee line. Chef Boyardee Ravioli. Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, “said Ms. Smith. “I haven’t had that in 20 years.”
Many of the initial panic purchases cleared stash of rice, cans of tuna and soup, and peas rooted in a combination of fear and practicality. Buyers, not sure when they will be able to return to the grocery store and whether they will find food that is refilled, buy food that can sit on a shelf for months.
This simple and easy-to-make food also fills up bills for people trying to squeeze a quick lunch in between a Zoom meeting for work or for parents who feed their new kids at school.
For large food companies, the big question is whether strong sales will disappear once the closing is over. Some of that depends on how fast the economy is rebounding, said Robert Moscow, an analyst at Credit Suisse.
“We counted three economic recessions in the past 30 years, and in each of the data shows that more consumers are turning to food consumption at home to save money, far from the structural trend of eating away from home,” Mr. Moscow said. “I hope food consumption at home increases, and not only for the next two months but for the next 12 months.”
Others say quarantine food shopping provides an opportunity for food companies to turn first-time buyers into old buyers with packaged, refrigerated or frozen foods which they say are healthier and tastier than a few years ago.
“We are seeing frozen dinners and appetizers that are trending with simple ingredients and global cuisine,” said David Portalatin, national analyst for food and beverage consumption at NPD Group, a research company. “Food companies have responded to the value of contemporary food for the past few years.”
Executives at General Mills say they have worked diligently to improve the nutritional level and taste of many products. “Right now, we have people who have tried products they haven’t had for a while, and we hope they are surprised and find that they are delicious and we get them back,” said Jon Nudi, who heads the North American retail operations company.
General Mills has seen improvements in all product lines in the past four weeks, from Yoplait yogurt to Cheerios cereals to Progresso Soup and even baking products such as Gold Medal flour and Bisquick because consumers who are confined to their homes fill endless time. by trying new recipes or even baking bread.
“We have seen all our categories go up, including a mixture of dry dinner packages such as Hamburger Helper,” said Mr. Nudi “There are many people who think their best days are far behind them. But, mixed with hamburgers or tuna, this is a simple and delicious meal. “
For many people, some of the strict rules they have about food before quarantine are now relaxed.
“We usually don’t have chips at home. But now we have Doritos and Cheetos. Chips are made from orange and all kinds of spices that we don’t usually eat, “said Connie Huynh, organizer with the grassroots activist network People’s Action in Pasadena, California.” We relaxed a few rules during this stressful time just to get past it. “
For others, buying pure food is an emotional reaction. Consumers are looking for foods that trigger childhood memories that are soothing or just become a snack when they need to relieve stress.
“One of the first things I took was Easy Kraft Cheese. Disgusting orange stuff in a tin. But that is one of the foods that I ate while growing up, so it was nostalgic, “said Hana Thompson, who works to start software in Denver.” I also have a Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos bag that I haven’t opened. How long can I be survive and not eat it? This is a low-entertainment game that I have ever played. “
Two days later, Cheetos won.
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