NEW YORK – Data release by NCSolutions (NCS) shows that while grocery spending has declined from its peak of up 35% compared to pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) buying, it remains elevated. The latest data shows spending is currently 23% higher than pre-pandemic levels, but consumers are beginning to purchase groceries similar to how they did before the onset of COVID-19. 

NCS has identified five stages of consumer buying related to COVID-19: 

  • Pre-COVID-19 Buying (prior to Feb. 24) - consumers behaving as usual with purchases typical for the time of the year. 

  • Preparedness Buying (Feb. 24 – March 10) - As COVID-19 began becoming more prevalent in the news around the world there was a noticeable uptick in consumer purchasing packaged goods, with an average of a 2% increase per household. Hand sanitizer, household cleaning items and toilet paper sales started to take off at the end of February. 

  • Extreme Buying (March 11 – 21) - Consumers began spending heavily to stock up their pantries with an average of a 35% spending increase per household. During this stage shelves in stores started emptying. 

  • Home-Confined Buying (March 22 and onward) - With social distancing mandates limiting store visits, the average household dropped to spending 23% higher than pre-COVID-19 levels. 

  • New Normal Buying – This stage is yet to be seen in the United States, but this stage is the period after the pandemic when social distancing measures begin lifting. 

In the current stage which began on March 22, consumers are buying more food and drinks but fewer paper and household cleaning products due to supply issues. NCSolutions notes that vegetables, salty snacks and cheese are back on the top for the week ending on March 28. Consumers are also buying more beer and wine, so now might be a good time to cross-merchandise those items with pairings in the deli or bakery. 

"This pandemic is altering consumer purchasing behavior, although it's too early to tell if the change will be permanent," said Linda Dupree, chief executive officer of NCS. "We see grocery shoppers cycling through five discrete buying stages as their lifestyles are upended. This evolution will inevitably raise important questions for advertisers around brand loyalty, especially when we eventually enter a 'new normal.'” 

For the latest trends in consumer purchasing behaviors visit NCS’s COVID-19 Resources and Updates page here.