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Crave for comfort amid lockdown

Adelaide Day-Collett
This is a post by Adelaide Day-Collett
April 8, 2020

In times of uncertainty people find comfort and security in familiarity. We are seeing this manifest in several different ways, such as buying habits, new routines at home and online social behaviours.

We have summarised four consumer behavioural changes that are indicative of how consumers are craving comfort during the pandemic, along with supporting insights and reports. We think these consumer trends present some interesting opportunities for brands.

1. Comfort in familiar food.


Pasta and bread are among the top foods Australians are stock-piling during the pandemic. This is interesting psychologically, as it is well known that with stress, carbohydrates consumption increases.

We tend to 'self-sooth' by eating foods that increase serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) like carbs and fatty-rich goods. People have also been stock-piling carbohydrate-rich foods for their long shelf life.

- During February, online purchases of pasta in Australia increased by 76 per cent.

- We have also seen a rise in ‘comfort cooking’. Both Myer and David Jones reported a boost in bread makers over the last month. Good Food’s most popular recipes for March 2020 were all old-school, home-style roasts

- And overseas, baker aisle sales have jumped 44.3 per cent in the US, with largest growth in fresh bread.  

- In the US, popcorn sales have been up 48 per cent, pretzels up 47 per cent and potato chips up 30 per cent compared to the year earlier.  

The opportunity: Brands should consider how they can increase convenience during this time so that consumers can more easily (and safely) access the products they love – for example by establishing direct-to-consumer delivery of comfort foods so people can avoid supermarkets and go contact-free. Conversely, brands could help to ensure people maintain healthy and active lifestyles during the pandemic isolation period, knowing that natural human behaviour is to ‘self-soothe’.

2. Booze sales have spiked with pub closures.


Australians are replacing their typical social outings by drinking at home. Consumers are replacing Friday night drinks at the pub and Sunday happy hours with home brewing kits and ready-to-drink cocktails.

Alcoholic beverage sales jumped 55 per cent in the third week of March compared to the same time a year ago, according to Nielsen data.   

- Spirits have seen the most significant rise in sales of 75 per cent, followed closely by wine jumping 66 per cent and beer increasing by 34 per cent.     

- Online growth rates for alcohol are growing even faster than in-store sales. Alcohol delivery service Jimmy Brings experienced 23 per cent growth in customers compared to the same time last year.

- The enforced closure of pubs has led to an increase in at-home substitutes. Searches for home brewing kits have almost tripled, according to Yellow Online search data.

- Ready-to-drink cocktails are up 106 per cent and tequila has seen a 90 per cent increase. 

The opportunity: Brands should consider how they can help people recreate their favourite social events in the comfort of their own home. For example through development of brand partnerships - such as beverage brands partnering with snack food brands to mimic a typical night at the pub.

3. Consumers shift their dollars to second-tier essentials.


As the initial stock-piling of food goods has slowed down, consumers are now buying second-tier essentials, notably beauty and cosmetic products. Consumers are finding comfort in self-care practises to ease stress and anxiety.

- Recent spending on beauty products, especially skincare, jumped 200 per cent compared to the same period last year, department store Myer reports.

- This behaviour is increasingly translating to online purchasing behaviour as quarantine restrictions have tightened over the last month. Amazon reported the value of its skin-care products rose by 80 percent in March compared to February.

- Australian retailers, like Mecca Maxima and Sephora, have pivoted their key product offering from make-up to skincare on digital channels.

The opportunity: Brands operating in the self-care space should ramp up their online offering and ecommerce efforts. There is also an opportunity to pivot marketing and communications to embrace the newfound interest in everyday pampering as people realise quarantine measures are here to stay.

4. Singles seek social comfort on dating apps.


Counter to what you might expect, dating apps like Tinder and Bumble are experiencing a surge in usage as people crave human company and a sense of normalcy during isolation. Hook-up culture is giving way to ‘courtships’, with people talking and messaging for longer on apps.

- For example, Bumble has seen an 8 per cent increase in active users during the second week of March in the US.

- Ok Cupid reports 88 per cent of people surveyed globally continue dating during the virus outbreak. .

- Tinder reports that user conversations have increased by as much as 30 per cent. Bumble also reports average video and voice calls have been lasting 15 minutes, a 21 per cent increase in engagement with in-app features.

The opportunity: Brands can embrace this new world of exclusive online socialising by repurposing their offering in wake of this behaviour. There are numerous creative opportunities for brands to provide products, services, assistance or advice to help people get ready for digital social activities like a zoom date or work meeting.

Concluding thoughts:

People are seeking a sense of security and comfort during this unprecedented time. This is being manifested through buying habits, new routines at home and online social behaviours.

Granted, it is simple to provide comfort when you have an inherently ‘comforting’ offering, such as pasta or crackers. However, the four opportunities referenced earlier indicate there are plenty of ways brands can talk to this trend.

Ultimately, it will be the brands that are able to, firstly, tune into these emerging trends and secondly, pivot their offering quickly in response, that will come out on top during this turbulent time.