food delivery onlineBy Nancy Mann Jackson

It’s no surprise that the pandemic inflicted massive rapid and unprecedented change on every aspect of our lives, including how we eat, how we buy food, and how we prepare food. In FIRST session “Consumer Behavior During COVID: Immediate and Lasting Effects in Grocery and Food Service Trends,” a panel of experts dive deep into the trends that have emerged in response to the food choices and behaviors Americans have been making over the past year and a half. In addition, they offer insight into which trends are likely to stick around as we emerge on the other side of the pandemic.

Just a few weeks into the pandemic, Americans already were reporting food behavior changes, including cooking more at home, snacking more, washing produce more, and focusing more on healthy eating, reports Allie Webster, director of research and nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). A year later, a majority of respondents still reported their food behavior was different from before the pandemic, but the numbers were not as high.

A couple of food trends that took hold during the pandemic are expected to maintain their popularity even as its impact on our daily lives diminishes. First, online grocery shopping has exploded during COVID-19, and IFIC research shows that not only will most people who are using online grocery shopping now continue to do so, but a large number say they expect to do even more of it. Second, a significant number of people say the healthfulness of their diets has improved over the past year, and they plan to continue focusing on eating healthier.

While Americans may have been forced to eat at home more during the pandemic due to restaurant closures and lockdowns, they now are returning to restaurants in large numbers—which even eclipse 2019 pre-pandemic figures, says Thomas Talbert, vice president of culinary marketing at CSSI, a culinary and marketing communications firm.

Restaurant dining rooms are filling up, but the pandemic trend of takeout and food delivery persists. Although these weren’t new concepts, the trend was the sheer number of consumers ordering delivery and takeout: During 2020, 63% of restaurant spend was on takeout and delivery, according to Talbert.

As restaurants pivoted and found ways to drive revenue without bringing diners into their locations, the surge in ghost kitchens continued, Talbert says. And even once the pandemic is a thing of the past, data show that ghost kitchens, meal kits, and family bundles are likely to stick around.

Certainly not all pandemic-driven trends are positive for the food industry. Many restaurants have closed, and many of those that have reopened are now unable to find staff. In addition, some former foodservice workers are seeking employment in other industries. Finally, the pandemic created ongoing needs for emergency food.

“We've been operating for 42 years in Chicago, and we've never seen the type of demand on the emergency food system as we have in the past year,” says Brendan Kitt, director of food acquisition at the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD). Food pantries that work with GCFD have seen 120% increases in the amount of people accessing the emergency food system and pantry resources in the past year.

At the same time, running the food pantries became more challenging: Many volunteers were unavailable due to the pandemic, and traditional sources of food changed. Government programs were added to provide food, with less food available from traditional local donors such as restaurants and grocery stores. Similar to restaurants that began offering family packs, GCFD found that one viable solution was to begin packaging food boxes that were shelf-stable and could be easily distributed to clients.


Register for FIRST to view this session and 100+ more—available on demand through Dec. 31, 2021.

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance journalist based in Huntsville, Ala.

Digital Exclusives right arrow

Unlocking Your Potential: Action Plan

After reading the Food Technology article “Unlocking Your Potential” you may be inspired to take a deeper dive on the topic of career growth. Here is a curated list of resources to help you learn more and take action.

Video: Conflict’s Corrosive Impact on Food Security

Watch the 2018 guest lecture at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute titled “Food Insecurity—A 21st Century Threat to Global Security and Stability,” in which FIRST keynoter Ertharin Cousin offered an analysis of one of the most pervasive and intractable causes of global hunger.

Zero Hunger Action Plan

After reading the Food Technology article “Can Science Delivery Zero Hunger?” you may be inspired to take a deeper dive on the topic of food security. Here is a curated list of resources to help you learn more and take action.

Consumers Seek Immune Boost

At IFT's “Time to Kick Start Healthy Eating” virtual meeting, Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation & Insights at Mintel, explained that the COVID-19 pandemic underlined consumers' need to optimize health, especially immunity.

Food Technology Articles right arrow

Food and Water Safety Technologies Gone Viral

The enemy of my enemy is my friend: How bacteriophages are being used to reimagine food and water safety.

Determining Infectious Doses of Foodborne Illness Agents

This column offers information about different methods of assessing infectious dose responses to help prevent foodborne illnesses.

Food Safety Gets Smarter

New technologies, policies, and partnerships are making the U.S. food supply safer.

Viable but Nonculturable Bacteria Can Threaten Food Safety

The column provides background on the viable but nonculturable bacterial phenomenon and an update on understanding of its occurrence among various bacteria, how it is induced, and detection of bacteria in the VBNC state.

Latest Brain Food right arrow

IFT's GFTC Submits Comments to FDA Regarding Proposed Traceability Rule

IFT’s Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) recently submitted comments to the U.S. FDA on behalf of the science of food community regarding the Food Traceability Proposed Rule. Here's the highlights.

The Science Behind Thanksgiving Dinner

Have you ever wondered why Thanksgiving flavors taste so good together, or whether you need to brine your turkey before cooking? You're in luck! IFT member Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS helped us deconstruct the traditional Thanksgiving menu and explore the science behind our favorite dishes. 

IFT’s GFTC Continues Advancing Food Traceability

While news of COVID-19 has dominated headlines this year, IFT’s Global Food Traceability Center remained focused and made progress toward advancing food traceability efforts across the supply chain with an emphasis on seafood.