Chinese Consumers Are Rethinking How They Eat Post Covid-19

By Nielsen

21:21:00, Jun. 8, 2020


In an exclusive Nielsen study of 11 Asian markets, along with the general trend in Asia, the vast majority of Chinese consumers responded that they are likely to change their eating habits as a result of the global pandemic.

Consumers across Chinese mainland have signaled their eating habits may change permanently once the world moves beyond the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In an exclusive Nielsen study of 11 Asian markets, along with the general trend in Asia, the vast majority of Chinese consumers responded that they are likely to change their eating habits as a result of the global pandemic.


The study, the first in a wave of Nielsen explorations underway across 74 markets, indicates that consumers in Chinese mainland will rethink and re-prioritize the places where to eat. 86% of the participants said they would eat at home more often than before the outbreak. In other Asian markets, a similar trend was observed with 77% of consumers in Hong Kong planning to eat at home more often than before the event, and in South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, that number was 62%, respectively.


Figure 1 Percentage of Repondents Who Said They Would Eat At Home

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Source: Nielsen "COVID-19 Where consumers are heading?" Study March 2020


Further, the study found an increasing demand for more takeaway food and home deliveries of food, with 24% and 37% of consumers in Chinese mainland expressing a stronger preference for these two forms respectively. 


The implications this will have on restaurants and other out-of-home businesses are clear, but the findings will also affect the way retailers stock their stores to meet these emerging new levels of demand.


Given the extended period Chinese market has endured the Covid-19 escalation, “the prolonged time people have had to spend in their homes in lockdown is clearly forcing a rethink in consumer behavior. The desire to spend more time at home appears to be a likely side effect that will extend over time”, said Justin Sargent, president of Nielsen China.


The food landscape in China has been an incubator of innovation and change over the last five years. As consumer lifestyles have become more densely urbanized, busier and more connected, the rise of food delivery and on-the-go consumption has dramatically changed traditional food consumption and eating experiences. But as the coronavirus situation has evolved, where and how consumers are eating has changed, with more choosing to purchase goods to eat at home.


Figure 2 Impact of Covid-19 on Asian Consumers Eating Habits

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▲Slide to see more consumer eating habits

Source: Nielsen "COVID-19 Where consumers are heading?" Study March 2020


Sargent also noted that these behaviors were quickly becoming the new norm. “The initial assumption was that consumers were panic buying, but we have seen this behavior now in the market for more than two months. Consumers have been back to the same store multiple times, so it is beyond panic buying. There is no doubt consumers have moved away from an ‘on-the-go lifestyle’ to more of a ‘safe in-home consumption’ trend,” said Sargent.


While it is clear that consumer behavior in Chinese market in the immediate terms has definitely changed, the subsequent question is “when will it return to normal?”


Given the unique circumstances of this experience for consumers, there are a number of indicators in the data that suggest a transformation as Sargent points out: “Consumer thinking and actions have been reoriented, and this will have long-term consequences. For many, old habits like eating out may forever be replaced by new habits, more apt to new, altered environments. Not only will consumers reassess where they’re eating, but they will also be far more cognizant of what they’re eating.” 


As Chinese mainland returns from quarantine conditions, another Nielsen research study from Chinese mainland, Nielsen Social Intelligence Survey on Coronavirus, shows they are emerging with more of a “homebody” mindset, where health and technology are factors that will influence consumer spending and shopping habits in the short and longer term.


In Chinese mainland, nearly 70% of the respondents purchased daily necessities / fresh products more than twice a week. Home quarantine further cultivated consumers’ online shopping habits, with 89% of consumers saying they will be more willing to buy daily necessities / fresh products online once the pandemic is over. Additionally, 80% said they would pay attention to eating healthy even after the epidemic is over.


“The COVID-19 epidemic is quickly revolutionizing how consumers from Chinese mainland think about their health, as well as changing their purchase behavior and the channels they are using to shop,” explains Justin Sargent, President of Nielsen China. “It is both a challenge and an opportunity for brands and retailers. With the advent of 5G, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and a shifting market environment, brand owners should be continually embracing change while exploring new business strategies.”


This showcases that even after life returns to normal post COVID-19, healthy eating may register higher on consumers’ radars than in the past. In-home eating experiences have been reset.


 “This represents a key opportunity for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and food delivery to rethink their health offerings and raise the bar even higher, ensuring their assortment satisfies expanding demand for health and convenience attributes—but with high quality and hygiene standards. For retailers, deepening online channels, improving offline-to-online services further and accelerating multi-channel integration will be how consumers shop in the future,” said Sargent.


Source(s): Nielsen


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