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Effects of 2020 Will Ripple Through Food System

This unprecedented year has triggered changes in the food system that will continue into 2021 and beyond, according to experts featured on CFI NOW: 2020 Epiphanies and Our Crystal Ball. The recent webcast  detailed lessons and trends from 2020 and what’s ahead for the food system.

“I have the fun job of prognosticating into the future based on conversations with consumers, manufacturers and retailers. Some of the changes we’ve seen are definitely going to extend beyond next year,” said Kevin Ryan, founder of Malachite Strategies and Research.

Ryan, along with Susan Schwallie, president of Food & Beverage with NPD Group, shared their thoughts during the webcast on Dec. 4, along with host Charlie Arnot, CEO of The Center for Food Integrity. Both Ryan and Schwallie are members of CFI’s Consumer Trust Insights Council.  (View the webcast here.)

How will the pandemic affect the food system into 2021 and beyond? Key insights from CFI NOW:

  • Holiday shopping is starting earlier.

“Some people are calling this the death of Black Friday. I don’t know if that’s the case, but COVID has fundamentally shifted the traditional holiday period,” Schwallie said. “If you just look at November and December, the holiday doesn’t look so great. But if you back it up into October, the holidays looking strong.”

Shoppers started planning earlier because they wanted to avoid crowded stores, she said. Concerns about supply chains and delayed shipping also prompted them to get a head start.

  • Food is a very popular gift.

“One of the ways that food and even beverages are enjoying popularity is as a gift or through subscription services. That’s because we’re seeing consumers purchasing experiences as gifts, but they have to be things that can be done in the comfort or safety of home,” Schwallie said.

  • Online ordering will bring more changes to food shopping.

“You may never have to go to the grocery store again, if you don’t want to,” Ryan said.

Look for even more changes in 2021. Ryan noted that grocery orders are now fulfilled by people, but the process may soon become automated.

  • Health dominates food decisions.

Consumers have been strongly interested in health and wellness for some time, but COVID-19’s intrusion heightened their awareness.

“COVID makes people feel a loss of control and that they need something to put the onus back on themselves, or at least the ability to take control. Buying things that help their health is one way,” Ryan said.

  • “Alternative” foods will become mainstream.

Alternative proteins, such as plant-based milk and cell-cultured meat, will become cheaper, more convenient and healthier next year, Ryan predicts. Companies involved in producing them will fight for dominance among consumers.

“There are a lot of meat and dairy alternatives. You’re going to stand out by being different and one potential way could be to produce a product that has something meat or dairy from an animal can’t provide,” he said.

  • The food system is poised for shakeup.

Traditional food companies have done well this year while restaurants have been hard hit. Ryan said that pressure has forced restaurants to become creative and  find new ways to reach customers.

“Because of this rapid crucible that the restaurant industry is going through, they are becoming a force to be reckoned with in 2021 and beyond. We’ve conditioned consumers to want more and more convenience. What’s more convenient than having someone deliver food directly to you?” he said.

The next CFI NOW, January 15, will explore the future of dining out. Register here.