As the number of Americans extremely concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic continues to climb, so do retail sales of food—from meat to frozen and shelf-stable goods.
Not only is the shift from school and restaurant dining to at-home boosting sales for food marketers, it’s also exposing people to products and brands they haven’t tried before.
Companies like Conagra are detecting early signs of increased product discovery in data from ecommerce sales, while focusing on digital media messaging to provide meal advice and recipes.
Conagra’s brands include Birds Eye, Gardein meat and seafood substitutes, Hunt’s tomatoes and Chef Boyardee.
“While the situation is still evolving, we believe the sharp increase in at-home eating occasions is generating trial among new consumers that we did not anticipate accessing,” Conagra president and CEO Sean Connolly said this morning on the company’s fiscal 2020 Q3 earnings call.
“We view this dynamic as a long-term opportunity for our portfolio overall and, in particular, our leading frozen business.”
Added Connolly, “We know we are getting higher levels of trial here during this phenomenon. The one place I can tell you that we do look that tends to be a leading indicator is ecommerce—and in the world of ecommerce what we are seeing is that we are reaching a large number of new tryers that we had not reached previously.”
In-store promotional activity is a retailer-by-retailer situation, according to Connolly. Meanwhile, Conagra is providing cooking ideas and recipes to educate people about its products.
“Our base A&P programming remains highly digital and it also remains extremely easy to kind of curate. Digital and social is a perfect place to do that. It’s kind of a utility for our consumers.”
Quarterly sales planning has succumbed to “day by day” planning.
“I don’t think anybody can predict right now when that is going to end. The latest thinking here is that we will go until minimum the end of April with people spending lots of time at home.”
According to the latest weekly survey of consumer attitudes and behaviors released March 26 by brand consultancy and creative agency Sterling-Rice Group, 45% of respondents expressed extreme concern about COVID-19. That compares to 14% three weeks prior in the 200-person, nationally representative survey.
As consumers continue to stock up while self-sheltering and cooking for kids and teenagers who are out of school, sales of meat are hitting new highs. According to Information Resources Inc., retail meat sales rose by 91% in the week ended March 22.
Pantry and refrigerator-loading has cleared store cases of fresh produce to the extent that whatever is there gets purchased. In addition to such stalwarts as beef and chicken, fresh turkey sales climbed 126%, pork by 101% and “fresh exotic” products like duck and bison were up 123%.
The most recent Sterling-Rice Group survey also shows that shoppers have become less price-sensitive.