We all know it’s been quite a year. Enough said. I want to start by focusing on the remarkable resiliency and adaptability of US consumers. Despite the pandemic and extraordinary changes in all of our lives, we are a nation of optimists.

As researchers who focus on in-store transactional testing for new product innovation, the start of the pandemic put a stop to all in-store research as we all learned how to stay safe and retailers dealt with pandemic-led pantry loading and implementation of new operating protocols. But that didn’t last for long.

We were curious how shopper behavior would change, so in May we started a national online survey to track shopper’s attitudes towards in-store sampling during COVID-19. What we found speaks to the willingness to be adaptable.

Nearly 70% of our October respondents said they would be willing to take a sealed food sample of a new product, open and taste it while still in the store. While the majority (77%) would take a sealed sample and try it at home. These responses have remained fairly consistent from May to October with a slight dip in mid-summer. We initially had expected these numbers to be much lower and are happily surprised by shopper’s willingness to take new product samples in store.

By August our in-store research restarted, and with exception of COVID-19 protocols (masks, hand sanitizer, physical distancing), has been essentially back to normal. Consumers have proven interested and able to talk about new innovations and how they fit into their current and pre-COVID lives. From mid-summer through mid-fall, we observed grocery shopping behaviors looked much like pre-pandemic—including browsing.

As we look ahead into 2021, we believe that much of our shopping and food consumption will return to pre-pandemic trends but with some lasting impacts from this unique year.

1. Food browsing is back – as stay-at-home restrictions were lifted around the country, we have seen the return to normal sized shopping carts and a slow down in shopping trip times. We expect to continue to see this return to normal once pandemic levels subside again post the winter surge.

2. Comfort foods will give way back to healthier eating – Initial pandemic loading included a remarkable number of comfort foods from pasta to cookies. Partially for shelf stable pantry loading but also as stress eating increased with the pandemic stress. We predict that consumers will return to healthier eating and hop back on the journey of better eating as they try to drop the proverbial “Covid 19”.

3. Online food shopping trends have been accelerated and will hold – the pandemic accelerated the rate of conversion from brick-and-mortar to online for food and it’s here to stay. Consumers tell us they’ve become accustomed to the convenience of ordering food like they have been doing for home products and there is no sign of that decreasing.

4. Exploration in food flavors and increased home cooking will continue – More consumers have re-engaged with cooking at home and we are observing a rise in bold and global flavors as consumers are trying to spice things up in their home cooking or recreating restaurant style fare.

5. A new generation of bakers and cooks – in an effort to find fun, at-home kid activities, we’ve seen a ramp up in parent-kid baking and cooking. We believe this trend will continue and are excited for whole new, young generation of cooks who are kitchen confident.

We know the end of 2020 and early 2021 are likely to look and feel worse before we get past this pandemic. We believe in the resiliency of the US and that grocery shopping, like most other of life’s daily routines, will return, albeit a little changed.