( Photo by The Packer staff )

Canned food is having a moment, but don’t expect it to last long.

The coronavirus may indeed result in a temporary spike in non-perishable food sales, as witnessed by several media reports about the surge in demand for Campbell’s soup products.

Kroger reported March 5 that it was selling more staple goods as consumers stockpile in “preparation for a wider coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

I don’t think that folks will be happy with saltine crackers and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for long. Once the coronavirus outbreak fades from the headlines, look for the natural consumer preference for fresh to re-assert itself. Where are the fresh oranges, blueberries and mangoes?

But will those customers be ordering produce items online or making the once-familiar trek to their local supermarket? One must wonder if the jolt that the outbreak has given online grocery sales will persist and form new habits for shoppers.

The Packer has received several e-mails about the implications of a wider coronavirus outbreak, and several speak to online ordering.

Meal planning service eMeals said this:

“As coronavirus concerns spread in the U.S., more consumers are avoiding grocery shopping by using online services. Meal planning service eMeals, which gives users the option to order groceries online, has seen a surge of use in the past week that cannot be explained by seasonal trends.”

Those reported increases in online grocery orders range from 13% to 67% in early March compared with the previous week.

Likewise, San Francisco-based online grocer Farmstead said in an e-mail that delivery volume was up 30% plus this week over normal levels, “most likely due to coronavirus concerns.”

“Many people are working from home, and everyone is trying to avoid crowded places like supermarkets,” Pradeep Elankumaran, co-founder and CEO of Farmstead, said in the release.

The release states that “overall demand for grocery delivery has been steadily growing across the U.S., but the latest spike may become “permanent behavior.”

“I believe we are entering a new world where these types of events cause people to rethink existing behavior,” Elankumaran said in the release. 

“As a society, we are becoming more accustomed to things coming to us — grocery has been an outlier. There is definitely a convenience factor, and right now, perhaps a safety advantage as well.”

Retailers who sell exclusively online will try to press their advantage when it comes to consumer perceptions of safety.

If fear of an outbreak widens, consumers will hang out at home, order online and decrease their visits to their local supermarkets. Tactics by supermarkets to prevent that attrition — or to eventually regain lost ground — must now become top of mind.

Restaurants likely face even bigger challenges than supermarkets if people feel that crowds of people bring threats of disease transmission.

The old Yogi Berra quote could hold some truth: “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded."

All that is worrisome. One thing we don’t need to worry about is Campbell’s soup and saltine crackers.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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