In the closed Beaver Area School District on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, staff still offer breakfast and lunch for students who depend on free or low-cost food programs for the week. Food is served at seven satellite locations in the district.
For the weekend, teachers and administrators are preparing lunch bags for dozens of students who may only eat a little until Monday.
This is a program that they started before the coronavirus pandemic attacked. Since then, needs have increased every week, while volunteers have had trouble finding enough food packages for one serving and canned soup to put in a backpack.
“It’s important for our group to use branded food. So often, students who work with us have to leave without, or have to deal with less, and this is one area where we don’t want to do that, “said Beaver District Principal, Carrie Rowe.
So they have been looking for Chef Boyardee’s food and canned Campbell soup – items that are currently rationed in many local markets because they were in great demand during the pandemic, Rowe said.
Packaged foods – which have declined because Americans are choosing fresh, healthier foods – have suddenly become more popular. Their long shelf life, easy preparation and relatively low costs prevail over consumers during uncertain times, when Americans are urged to limit grocery shopping to once a week at most and many have lost their jobs, have taken leave or do not know how long they will be employed.
“Even when the pandemic starts to fade, there is an economic impact, and we don’t know what will happen,” said food industry analyst Darren Seifer of the NPD Group.
As long as Americans have to keep tabs on their food budget, Seifer says, packaged food brands that are often ignored will have the opportunity to build habits with new consumers or those that have been missing for decades.
The Campbell Soup Co., maker of not only familiar canned soups but Prego pasta sauces and other familiar foods, reported an increase in orders more than quadrupled during the week period in March. Kraft Heinz – from mac Kraft and cheese and Heinz ketchup fame, which is owned written billions of dollars in brand value last year – said it saw sales also increase. And Conagra, owner of brands such as Slim Jim and frozen food Healthy Choice, reported on Wednesday Retail sales up 30.6% for the week ending March 29.
“Those well-established branded manufacturers that consumers are very familiar with have fallen out of favor,” said Erin Lash, a consumer sector analyst for Morningstar.
Rutgers University nutrition professor, Diane Rigassio Radler said, apparently the reason for the reversal was emotional and also practical.
“This is a very disturbing and very uncertain period, and sometimes we reach things we know,” said Radler, who said that he had maintained his healthy eating habits while maintaining social distance. He urged others to do it too.
“If people can eat balanced food with healthy food, they will feel better. And now, we need to do everything we can to feel better.”
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