Field Agent Canada has been conducting regular surveys with Canadians to gauge consumer shopping behaviour and sentiments during the COVID-19 crisis. Grocery Business asked Jeff Doucette, general manager, to share his insights on the recent research results.
Based on your research, how are consumers responding more than a month into the crisis? Are they still stocking up or are they feeling more confident about the strength of the food supply?
When asked about how confident they were about the food supply chain on a five-point scale where one was not confident at all and five is very confident, 93 per cent of survey participants responded with a 3/5 or higher. It seems that Canadians are confident overall, and retailers have done a great job building that trust. It appears that the worst of the demand stress on the supply chain should be behind us now.
What products are most popular and have any unexpected ones picked-up steam?
Some of the original problem categories are still in out-of-stock situations as of mid-April such as cleaning/laundry supplies and bath tissue/paper towels, but the new emerging out-of-stock issues are notably baking supplies, flour and eggs. In a separate survey we found that 50 per cent of Canadians have started baking or are baking more often since the start of COVID-19 lockdowns. These supply chains will take some time to get back to normal, but I expect demand will be high as long as social distancing measures continue to be in place.
How are consumers feeling about how the retailers and CPG companies are handling the crisis?
We recently asked Canadians which brands were gaining their trust during the COVID emergency and six out of ten were food retailers. I think that speaks volumes. When we asked specifically how Canadians thought retailers were handling the crisis 75 per cent of respondents gave scores of four or five on a five point scale where one was "not well at all" and five was "very well." When we asked the same question about food brands and manufacturers, the same metric was 74 per cent. Very strong results to say the least.
As an industry veteran, what has surprised you most about the consumers’ and industry’s reaction to the crisis?
The COVID-19 situation has seen the grocery industry -- both retailers and suppliers -- came together in an unprecedented way to secure our food supply chain. Without the amazing efforts that were made by the whole supply chain to deal with the demand shocks and the great communication from leaders in retail about what was being done, this could have been a very negative situation for grocers.
I think when we look back at this, we will have many examples from the grocery industry that will be held up as best practices for any business when dealing with an emergency from employee safety and labour relations to corporate communications.
Is there anything else you would like to add based on the research Field Agent has conducted recently?
There are still lots of unknowns and it seems like the "new normal" is something that will be several months down the road. As I reflect on the verbatim comments that have come back in our research over the past month, I think that we have learned a lot of lessons in the past six weeks that will forever shape our food stores and our food supply chain.
Stores are likely going to need to adapt permanently based on the new awareness of shoppers brought on by social distancing. For example, I have a hard time imagining open self-serve olive bars or buffet hot food making a return to stores, and retailers may need to reconsider the design of the front-of-store and checkout area. In many stores, we will likely need to shorten aisles and install new queuing systems to allow more spacing as customers line up at the front of the store.