Jun 18, 2020 by Lisa Cork
In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 upturned lives and livelihoods in Australia, New Zealand and around the world. One of the responses we’ve seen as people have adjusted and then readjusted to a new normal is a change in consumer behaviours.
From online shopping to cashless transactions, remote experiences and mindfulness, many of these changes were happening anyway, but the coronavirus lockdown – and everything it brought with it – has moved them into the fast lane.
The important question now is: which habits are going to stick? And how can fresh produce companies respond and pivot to meet new demands and opportunities in a post-coronavirus future?
Research shows it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to form.
That’s around nine weeks.
In Australia, the first major event – the Melbourne Grand Prix – was cancelled due to the coronavirus on 13 March. Within 24 hours, the shutdown had started. Some people had started restricting their activities before the official lockdown, which means people were in lockdown for some 10 weeks before restrictions eased.
That’s long enough for new habits to form.
So, when we talk about changes in consumer behaviour, we’re not talking about changes that will go away and be forgotten in a couple of months. These habits will stick.
Coronavirus has led to a surge in online shopping.
A recent PMA webinar discussed prior to the virus that 2 in 10 Australian consumers felt a degree of confidence shopping online. Now mid-virus, that number has increased to 6 out of 10.
Consumer hesitancy about buying food online is declining as research by BigCommerce revealed that online sales of food and beverage products increased by 7.2% from March 15 to May 4, 2020.
For anyone considering selling fresh produce online – or any product for that matter – this should be the final nudge you need to be seriously evaluating the role of online sales in your business now and in the future.
Mindfulness has been bubbling as a megatrend for at least three years. For example, both the plant-based and protein trends are happening on a foundation of mindfulness.
The coronavirus crisis has accelerated mindfulness, and it is a consumer change that is likely to stick around. The driving forces behind the mindful consumer is not hard to understand.
The coronavirus lockdown meant we were confronted with ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly.
In the first weeks of lockdown, family dynamics were tested. People were forced to acknowledge the quality of their relationships in the absence of busyness.
As life as we know it closed down, consumers had to face their own buying, cooking and eating habits. There is a popular meme floating around that sums this up nicely: “What meeting do I attend first after the virus – Weight Watchers or AA?”
For some, consumption habits, both good and bad, became noticeable and observable.
We had to change our shopping priorities in the new constrained world – we can’t have everything, so what do we need as a priority?
All of these factors and more are contributing to a more and more mindful consumer that will need to be marketed to.
This new appreciation for essential workers extends from hospital staff and truck drivers to farmers – the people who truly mattered when the going got tough.
Throughout the pandemic, farmers still tilled soil, planted crops, and harvested fruit and vegetables. My hope is consumers saw this and appreciated this as it would represent a fundamental shift in consumer thinking, awareness and appreciation.
The big question consumers are asking right now, and will continue to ask, is: “How do I ensure my family and I stay healthy amidst the first pandemic in our lives?”
This curiosity around what people need to do to be healthy and protect their families has led to a desire to eat healthy food. It’s a new kind of thinking around wholesomeness.
People are acutely aware now that meals must include produce to be healthy. Sometimes this produce is canned or frozen, but there’s still a conscientiousness around the foods (and products) we buy, and their source.
For produce companies, a big opportunity lies in story-telling.
Don’t miss the opportunity to embed your story with consumers and help them connect with your brand.
Focus on authenticity. People have a strong sense of duty to community right now, so amplify shared values and focus on nurturing feelings of community and trust.
The new normal has seen completely new players enter the market and others pivot quickly to tap into new trends.
You can’t afford to wait. Brands need to respond now and be seen as responsive to consumer needs and the changing environment.
Tell consumers you’ve watched, listened and seen the change in how they cooked with and enjoyed your product.
Start by acknowledging how you responded to the virus. Did you pivot? Did you find ways to enable staff to work from home? Did you create new opportunity from hardship? If yes, acknowledge this. Change is not easy and you responded.
Use this momentum to continue to innovate. What changes can you continue with? Now is a great time to talk to staff, listen and learn. What do they think is next? What opportunities do they see?
Companies who adapt and innovate during this crisis to improve their business or reach customers in their new normal will build stronger relationships that will endure well into the future.
When she was 25 years old, Lisa Cork wrote down the following vision: “To be a global leader in innovative produce marketing.”
Today, nearly 30 years later, Lisa lives into her vision daily. Lisa is now CEO of her own global consulting firm, Fresh Produce Marketing Ltd. Her days are spent working with fresh produce growers and marketers around the world, helping them see and leverage trends, create strategies that future-proof their business, brands and products and delivering workshops and presentations that inspire and motivate their teams. Visit: www.freshproducemarketing.com for more information.
Lisa is a popular magazine columnist, writing for Fresh Fruit Portal and ProducePlus. She is also a popular speaker and workshop facilitator. She is currently serving her final year as a director of the Produce Marketing Association (USA).