Post-Pandemic Musings: Q&A With IRI's Joan Driggs

The pandemic prompted most consumers to change their habits quickly to stay safe. Early on, many shifted at least some of their shopping to online, instead of in-store (and as result, Amazon’s profits swelled.) But now that the pandemic appears to be waning, many are wondering what pandemic-induced changes are likely to be permanent.

Seeking answers, we asked Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership for market research company IRI, about the pandemic, its affects and aftereffects. Below are some excerpts from the conversation.

Marketing Daily:The pandemic has been a boon to home cooking, your data show. Why is that?

Joan Driggs: When we’re at home, we generally cook. There has been a huge investment in home appliances and air fryers. There’s a large segment of the population who are still working from home and have the time to cook.  That supports a lot of breakfast and lunch meal occasions that just didn’t exist before.



Marketing Daily: How else is this different than if it had happened 10 or 15 years ago? I imagine people are more health-conscious now.

Driggs:  People have been exposed to a lot of flavors. There are lots of interesting products and more flavor experiences. Looking at healthy things, the frozen category really transformed tremendously through the pandemic, and there’s a whole new generation of people exposed to it, with fruit and veggie blends that people are used to seeing in a smoothie. That’s a newer, kind of over-the-past-10-years kind of trend that is happening.

In 2020, one of our trendsetting products was a Starbucks coffee creamer. This really mimics the taste and even the look of what you’d get inside a Starbucks. That was one of the biggest-selling products of 2020, and what’s interesting is that these coffee creamers are still in really high demand. People being able to make their coffee when they want it -- and the savings they get from doing so -- really changes their behavior.

Marketing Daily: Where are we now? Do you know what percentage (of consumer spending) is spent outside the home now?

Driggs:  [In]-store sales are definitely coming back. I would guess by the end of next year, it might be back to 50% but for now, we’re seeing demand in food and retail as much higher than it was before. Another thing you have to factor in is wage inflation, which is different from past recessions where inflation was kind of spotty. We’re seeing that prices are increasing across the board by about 10%. And that’s different from past recessions when people were trading down to save money.

Marketing Daily: So what are people doing now?

Driggs: They’re looking for deals, my friend. One of the interesting things that happened during the pandemic was, there were fewer promotions, but even with fewer promotions, those that are out there are doing very well. People are looking for deals.

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