With COVID-19, more people are eating at home, and that means fresh apple marketers can take advantage of increased snacking trends.
That is one perspective offered by Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst with The NPD Group Inc., in his Aug. 20 presentation, “Consumption in the Post-Outbreak Normal,” for the U.S. Apple Association’s 125th Annual Crop and Outlook Marketing Conference, a virtual event.
“It looks like we’re still gonna have some tough times coming down the pike, so what role can we play here?” Seifer said. “We’re very stressed out, we know that consumers are snacking more, we know that consumers are making food in the home more; our job is to be the comfort that consumers seek to make their lives easier, whether it’s food or helping them stay healthy, whether it’s mental health or physical health.”
During the height of the COVID-19 lock-down, Seifer said the number of eating occasions for apples rose 66% compared with year-ago levels.
“Apples are easy to keep on the countertop, just give a quick rinse and (they) are ready to go,” Seifer said. “They are very convenient, and consumers are looking for that type of solution today, especially when they have the added stressors of cooking everything at home, as well as working from home and managing your family.”
De-stress with apples
Seifer said apples can play a role in helping consumers avoid stress eating of indulgent items like cake.
“Just message it around, ‘We know you’re stressed, and we’re here to help you,’” he said.
For examples, suggesting a combination of fresh apples and honey might encourage consumers to be both indulgent and sensible. In addition, he said fresh apples can be marketed as a way for consumers to lose the weight gained during the pandemic.
Meal kit solutions are still used by a relatively small portion of consumers, but Seifer said their popularity has increased since COVID-19 restrictions began in mid-March.
During the first quarter of 2020, perhaps 5% of consumers used meal kits, and now those numbers are closer to 8%, he said. The appeal of less food waste, avoiding trips to the grocery store and taking away decision making about recipes have been factors that have boosted meal kits.
Online grocery sales of apples could benefit versus the banana or other fruits if consumers find the quality delivered is superior, Seifer said.
“Consumers might see an apple as something that should survive the trip much better,” he said.
Packaged produce has seen higher demand, and that trend may continue for a while.
“I think we could eventually get back to when consumers are picking out their own individual items, but the bag gave the consumer the sense that there weren’t all these people touching it, feeling it and spreading germs,” he said. “As long as we’re dealing with this, as long as there are still shutdowns, as long as things are still abnormal, I think (packaging) is probably going to still be a key benefit for consumers.”
Seifer said the foodservice business may continue to struggle, not only due to the COVID-19 economy but also because of demographic trends. Baby boomers and millennials — together representing about half the U.S. population — are moving in to life stages where they won’t go out to eat as much as before.
“Millennials are starting to form their families and many of them have had kids for several years now, and so they’re not going out to restaurants because of their commitments in the home,” he said.
At the same time, baby boomers are retiring and have fixed incomes and won’t go out to eat because of tight budgets. Meanwhile, Gen Z consumers don’t have full access to restaurants because of COVID-19.
“I’m thinking that Gen Z (consumers) might actually be doing what millennials did 10 years ago,” he said. “They’re getting used to their kitchens much sooner than we would have expected them to.”