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  • Author: Rory McDonnell, Head of Insight & Planning, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board

     

    We are almost 66 days on from the moment all of our lives changed, the moment restrictions on our movements were introduced to combat Covid 19.

     

    Over the course of those 66 days a lot has changed. We’ve changed the way we shop, the meals we eat, how we interact with one another, the way we work and even the way we greet one another (if we get the chance to ever meet one another).

     

    Research has shown that it takes 66 days for behaviours to become habits, for a change in behaviour to ‘stick’. So inevitably we will see the consequences of lockdown will be some permanent changes in consumer behaviour.

     

    Before Covid-19 many of us were focusing on the changing consumer behaviours around sustainability. At Bord Bia we have long called this trend ‘Responsible Living’; the trend that has seen consumers wanting to have a positive impact on society and the environment.

     

    But in a world where keeping yourself case from a killer virus is preoccupying consumers’ minds, the question has to be asked – does sustainability still matter?

     

    On first look you could be forgiven for concluding the answer to that question is a big NO. But perhaps that conclusion oversimplifies what is an ‘ever evolving’ consumer world.

     

    The team at Bord Bia’s Thinking House have been tracking changes in consumer behaviour over the course of lockdown and we will continue to do so.

     

    One of the first big changes we have seen is a shift to more ‘no-touch’ consumption. And, as a result, a move back into packaged foods has been a very real change in behaviour.

     

    Loose grocery produce such as fruit, vegetables and baked goods have all moved back in to protective plastic or paper packaging.

     

    The knock-on effects for those of us working in the area of sustainability agenda are self-evident – the trend of consumers trying to cut down on packaging has been reversed by Covid-19.

     

    So sustainability doesn’t matter? Greta and her band of not so merry boys and girls can just give up? Well its actually not that simple.

     

    When we look at the area of food waste, for example, we actually see a very ‘sticky’ change in consumer behaviour has emerged.

     

    Some 34% of Irish adults are now consciously trying to cut-down on food waste as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions and 66% of those consumers intend to so more into the future. Better management of food waste looks like being the first big behavioural change that will please those of us championing sustainability in food.

     

    Sustainability isn’t just about food waste of course. For some consumers sustainability can also be manifest in where we source our food from.

     

    The early signs are of a greater focus on shopping local with 39% of Irish consumers choosing more ‘local’ grocery brands as a result of Covid-19, another sticky behaviour that we will be monitoring in international markets.

     

    Recent years has seen a big focus on meat consumption and sustainability. The early signs are Covid-19 has seen a shift in meat consumption. Meat, like all grocery store items, has seen a dramatic uplift in sales in recent weeks.

     

    Bord Bia’s Future Proofing work has been measuring indicators of change in consumption of meat.  The ‘stickiest’ change in behaviour with respect to meat has been ‘buying better quality beef’, with 17% of Irish consumers following that behaviour.

     

    So far from Covid-19 resulting in an end to consumers being concerned about sustainability, they are instead moving into purchase of sustainable Grass Fed Irish Beef in greater numbers.

     

     

    Beyond consumption behaviour we also are seeing early signs of a change in consumer behaviour around Social Sustainability.

     

    These changes are particularly evident in the area of health and wellness with 36% of Irish adults ‘trying to improve health generally’ and 34% ‘walking, jogging or running outdoors’ more as a result of Covid 19.

     

    However, a hidden indicator of change we can’t lose sight of is a dramatic uplift in consumers relying on food-parcels and soup kitchens in many developed economies. As with all things Covid related there is a dark side to this story too. Lockdown may well have slowed down Social Sustainability.

     

    For us at Bord Bia the challenge is to continue to monitor and evaluate how consumer behaviours around Responsible Living and Sustainability will evolve over time.

     

    We are doing this through our Future Proofing work and would encourage you to download our Future Proofing Toolkit here to understand how consumer behaviours are changing and sticking.

     

    The toolkit is a living document with regular updates on new indicators of behavioural change and fresh data measuring this change in Ireland and other key markets for Irish exporters.

     

    66 days on, it would appear that sustainability matters even more than ever before.