The new normal: Irish shopper behaviour in lockdown

Irish shoppers have compensated for a lack of out-of-home options by increasing spend on take-home grocery by 23%.
21 May 2020
Cliona Lynch

Consumer Insights Director

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Irish shoppers are opting for local stores and adding more treats to their trolley as they adapt to the new normal. 

€196m additional take-home spend

With the Irish population on lockdown for the entire month of April, it's clear from the latest data from our grocery panel that shoppers compensated for a lack of out-of-home options by increasing spend on take-home grocery by 23%, spending an additional €196m. Shoppers also added 92 million more packs to their baskets in the four weeks to 19 April, up 19% year on year.

Missing the cinema? You're not the only one; Irish shoppers looking to recreate the experience of going to see a film in their homes boosted popcorn sales which were up 63% in April.  And with no more lunch on the go, brunches out, coffee and cake dates or dinners in town, shoppers added new categories to their repertoire to replicate those occasions as best they could at home. Sales of brunch favourites - bacon and eggs - were up 33% as we take more time over breakfast. BBQ meats grew by 44% bolstered by some very welcome sunshine which saw those with outdoor space taking the opportunity to enjoy it. We're also using the extra time at home to bake - with home baking ingredients growing 52% (sourdough anyone?), and to try out more adventurous recipes for dinner with ethnic ingredients growing 41%.

While March was about stocking up on non-perishables; pasta, canned goods, healthcare and cleaning products, April was more about nesting – trying out new meal ideas, baking and enjoying a drink at home. These are all ways to compensate for missing our usual meals out, treats and pub drinks as we tried to keep spirits up and palates happy in our households.

Locked down and limiting our risks

Whether it was the risk of contact points in the supermarket, the fear of explaining yourself at a Garda checkpoint or the hassle of queuing, shoppers in Ireland adapted their behaviour in April to make less trips to stores, and to stock up when they were there. We have even seen shoppers reduce the number of stores they will visit – down from three stores a week at Christmas to a record low of 2.4 stores in the week to 19 April. Range and availability has therefore never been more important; shoppers want to get everything they need in one shop, and avoid another “unnecessary” journey.

Many shoppers also switched from a Friday or Saturday shop to a Tuesday or Wednesday outing – in part to avoid crowds, and in part due to having freer weekdays, with schools and colleges shut and some 600,000 Irish people becoming unemployed. While Tuesday and Wednesday saw the strongest growth, Sunday remains the quietest day of the week for stores, with just 8% of weekly grocery sales coming through that day.

Staying local

The government-set exercise area limit of 2km seems to have been extended by shoppers to their grocery trips. There is evidence that they have been staying as local as possible when it comes to store choice. Those stores with the biggest networks – SuperValu, Centra and SPAR have benefitted from this trend – winning new shoppers and growing sales faster than competitors.

An extensive store network was one of the key factors behind SuperValu taking back the top spot in the Irish grocery market – a title they last held in April 2018. SuperValu saw 45,000 new shoppers in-store in April, and was the only retailer to grow shopper numbers in a month where we shopped around less and visited fewer stores. The retailer also benefitted from very strong growth of sales through its online platform.

The growth of online shopping was driven in part by over 70s being restricted from visiting stores in person. The number of retired households shopping online doubled in April and their online spend online increased by 157%. These shoppers benefitted from dedicated delivery slots, options to call in orders and a push to increase capacity, as the industry flexed its services to help protect those most vulnerable. However, online grocery deliveries did not fully replace their usual shopping habits and cocooning meant that retired households were the only demographic to reduce spend overall on grocery in April.

Socially distant Easter

Keeping apart from our friends and family certainly impacted Easter. As Leo Varadkar pointed out, Easter Egg deliveries to nieces, nephews and grandchildren were hampered. And while hopefully everyone still had a visit from the Easter Bunny, perhaps there were fewer eggs delivered than previous years – as eggs and novelties represented 59% of confectionery sales this year compared with 68% last Easter.

And while many families will still have enjoyed their Sunday Roast – they might have had a few less seats around the table as extended family and young adults stayed away. As a result we saw no repeat of the traditional Easter boost for fresh meat and veg. Instead we saw shoppers reach for Crisps, Snacks, Chocolate, Baking ingredients and Alcohol – as people comforted themselves for missing out on their usual gatherings with family and friends.

What next?

We identified five major themes in our grocery shopping behaviour for April – and only one of these do we expect to extend beyond lockdown:

Fewer, bigger trips

  • Shoppers are making fewer but bigger trips as they limit their store visits and buy across more categories on each trip
  • Will continue through lockdown but unlikely to continue beyond

Location and social distancing

  • Online and Symbols increase their share to 8.5% as they offer convenience and reduce risk
  • Will continue through lockdown but unlikely to continue beyond

Experience beats convenience

  • As shoppers spend more time at home, creating in home experiences becomes a top priority
  • Will continue through lockdown and may continue beyond

Younger, larger households

  • Larger households drive growth with more mouths to feed while retired shoppers abide by government restrictions
  • May continue through lockdown but unlikely to continue beyond

More snacking occasions

  • A break in routine causes more snacking occasions as health takes a back seat to taste and comfort
  • Will continue through lockdown but unlikely to continue beyond

Insights in this piece are based on the four weeks to 19 April 2020. If you’d like to find out more, please do get in touch.

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