A Look at How COVID-19 is Changing Grocery Retail

The grocery retail vertical has seen dramatic growth since the outbreak of COVID-19. Now that work-from-home and remote learning have become the norm, US consumers are cooking more meals at home, driving up grocery demand. In fact, while other retail categories have seen sharp declines, the growth in food and beverage store sales from February to March 2020 was 26% higher than the same period last year.1

Staying at home is not only driving the need for more frequent grocery runs, but also causing a shift toward online grocery buying as shoppers avoid in-store contact. Digital grocery shopping activity increased week-over-week throughout the entire month of March.2 Moreover, as consumers become accustomed to the convenience of grocery pick-up and delivery, these buying behaviors are likely to stay intact after the pandemic. 43% of US adults say they are somewhat or very likely to continue buying groceries online after COVID-19.2

Quantcast explored the changing audiences within two categories of grocery retail:

Supermarket site visitation:

Major supermarket chains carrying all common grocery products and household brands

Specialty grocery site visitation:

Smaller, niche grocery brands specializing in particular product lines or artisan foods

By examining our first-party data before and after the COVID-19 outbreak, we took a deeper look into how online behaviors have shifted for sites in each category.

After normalizing the data to directly compare traffic trends, we can see how these two categories of online grocery have behaved differently since exceeding their baseline page view levels in mid-March. Supermarket page views were the first to surpass their year-to-date benchmark on March 16. However, their rate of growth was soon surpassed by the specialty grocery category, which saw a steep increase starting in early April.

It’s no secret that boomers gravitate towards legacy brands including traditional supermarkets. So when forced inside due to COVID-19, it’s not surprising to see 55+ year old consumers increase their composition within the online supermarket audience. Conversely, younger consumers are clearly leaning into more specialized and niche online grocery retail.

Site visitation is skewing towards more affluent audiences since the COVID-19 outbreak. While the middle and upper class workforce is shuttered inside, the appeal of groceries delivered straight to the door is higher than ever. We see more online visitation from higher income brackets, likely as people browse options for food delivery and pick-up. On the other hand, essential workers who can’t stay at home – some of whom are in lower income brackets – are visiting grocery sites less and likely still buying food at brick and mortar locations.

At the same time, online grocery site visitors are skewing towards those with no children in their household. While busy parents rely heavily on buying groceries online to save time, we are now seeing consumers without kids at home opting in, since what was once a simple run to the grocery store could now expose them to the virus.

We’re looking at how consumer behavior continues to change over time during this crisis. Be sure to check out our insights hub for new insights in the coming weeks.

For more information on how Quantcast can help your brand understand online consumer behavior in real-time, get in touch here.

eMarketer, US total retail sales growth by product category, April 15, 2020

eMarketer, What grocery retail can learn from the past weeks, May 5, 2020