Over the past year, I’ve made three major changes to the way I shop for food. First, I’ve switched from eating at restaurants or picking up takeout to primarily cooking at home. In addition, I buy much healthier foods now, and everything is clean label, organic, or grass-fed/pasture-raised. Finally, I have my freezer stocked with frozen veggies (believe it or not, I had never bought frozen vegetables before the pandemic). Although my cooking skills are limited to a George Foreman Grill, frying pan, and a single three-quart pot, I’ve really started to enjoy prepping my own meals.

During my interviews with a dozen buyers who participated in ECRM’s European Dry Food, Confectionery, Organic/Bio & Free From Program, I realized that these same trends are happening among consumers across the pond. While they may shop for food online more than I do – after all, I live in New York City with several food stores within a two-minute walk from my apartment – they are also focusing more on health and cooking at home. 

Indeed, according to a recent McKinsey & Company report, “How European Shoppers will Buy Groceries in the Next Normal,” a focus on healthy foods is a very important consideration in their weekly shopping, particularly among younger consumers. “Home has been recast as the new restaurant,” the report said, “with heightened health consciousness (though with some allowances, since home is also the new pub and new center of entertainment, reflected in skyrocketing sales of baking products, alcohol and snacks).”

Following are some key consumer trends I picked up from my buyer interviews, which, incidentally, will be very helpful for brands taking part in ECRM’s upcoming Global Market: Food & Beverage, which includes many buyers from Europe among its participants.

Consumers have a love of food again

With many European consumers still stuck at home, their relationship with food and cooking from scratch has been reinvigorated, and most buyers I spoke with feel that this will continue long after the pandemic passes. “Our customers have a love of food again,” says Laura Strapp, Senior Buyer for Cotswold Fayre, a fine foods wholesaler that distributes to approximately 2,000 retailers in the UK. “They are less price-sensitive, since they are saving money from not eating outside in restaurants, and they are once again interested in the tastes and textures involved with home cooking.”

Joe with Laura Strapp

Meeting with Laura Strapp of Cotswold Fayre during ECRM’s Euro Foods Programs

Vegan reigns supreme

Products with vegan ingredients were mentioned as the top consumer choice among virtually every buyer I spoke with, regardless of what country they were in. As part of their health journeys, European consumers are increasingly adding more plant-based foods into their diets. “Vegan is the name of the game,” says Pall Hilmarsson, Managing Director of Iceland-based wholesaler Innnes Ltd. “We’re seeing a lot of flexitarians, who are vegan several days of the week and occasionally eat meat. January is now Veganary for a lot of people.”

Organic & other certifications gain in importance

That is not to say that organic foods aren’t also still trending. In fact, most buyers I spoke with noted a spike in consumer demand for products across many types of certifications, including organic, non-GMO and Marine Stewardship Council. This is because at-a-glance they know they can trust the ingredients that are in the packaging, as the certification organizations have already validated them.

We are seeing this similar trend toward certifications here in the U.S., and ECRM’s product discovery platform RangeMe recently hosted a webcast on the benefits of certifications for retailers and brands. They will also be hosting a panel discussion on certifications during ECRM Global Market: Food & Beverage. 

Overall, consumer focus is on cleaner eating, and European consumers are seeking food products with minimal processing and a limited number of ingredients. Anything that brands and buyers can do to help them find these products will be a win for everybody.

Take a closer look at food and beverage ingredient standards in the EU and U.S. here.

Indulgence and comfort foods to deal with anxiety

The boost in healthy food sales notwithstanding, European consumers are still partaking in the occasional indulgence. With the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that sales of comfort foods, snacks, and candy (as well as booze) remain strong. Healthy snacks are trending among those who seek an occasional treat without guilt.

Convenience for those tired of cooking

For those people who don’t want to cook EVERY meal at home, convenience and grab-and-go items are popular. Meal kits have been doing very well during the pandemic, especially among younger consumers who prefer not to spend hours in the kitchen. (Why would they do that, when they can be on TikTok instead?)

Sustainability 

Just as consumers are more interested in taking care of themselves, they are also more interested in taking care of the planet, and are buying more products that have sustainable claims on their packaging – or no packaging at all. “They want less plastic in the packaging, and even to avoid packaging whenever possible,” says Sabrina Kruchen, Import Manager for Sales Plus GmBH in Germany. “This is especially the case with dry foods.”

Online/home delivery/pick-up still growing

Regardless of what they are buying, online ordering – whether for home delivery or pick-up at the store – has become a regular part of food shopping for European consumers, and those retailers that up their e-commerce game will benefit as many of these shoppers will continue to incorporate digital into their post-pandemic routine. 

In fact, many consumers in Europe turned to new online sources when their local retailers didn’t have pickup or delivery services that met their needs. According to the McKinsey study, 15 percent of European consumers have shopped for groceries on a website that they have never used before, and more than half will continue shopping at those sites for at least some of their grocery needs. 

However, there are still those shoppers, like me, who prefer to visit the store to touch, feel, and smell the products, and as consumers shop for more healthy items (ie, produce, meat, and seafood), the brick-and-mortar store will continue to be a key source for many shoppers.

Having the ability to combine the best of both worlds with a true omnichannel experience will help food retailers stay competitive in the coming years as shoppers expect shopping experiences that best fit their needs. 

ECRM Europe offers category-specific programs where brands, retailers and distributors can connect in highly-curated face-to-face virtual meetings. For more information, contact John van der Valk, ECRM Europe CEO, at jvandervalk@ecrm.marketgate.com

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