Eating habits change – the new reality for Asian consumers post COVID-19

Eating habits change
Photo by Cathy Yeulet

Consumers across Asia have signaled their eating habits may change permanently once the world moves beyond the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In an exclusive Nielsen study of 11 Asian markets, only Japanese consumers say they are less likely to change their eating habits as a result of the global pandemic.

Nielsen, the global measurement and data analytics company, surveyed Asian consumers to understand their behaviour while purchasing fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and the findings reveal a phenomenal shift from on-the-go consumption to safe in-home consumption due to the impact of COVID-19.

Nielsen’s “COVID-19 Where consumers are heading?” study, which tracks consumers’ sentiment toward the coronavirus outbreak, changing lifestyle, and spends on FMCG categories, found that across 11 Asian markets most consumers have re-prioritised eating at home, a trend lead by 86% of mainland Chinese consumers who said they would eat at home more often than before the outbreak. A similar trend was observed with 77% of consumers in Hong Kong planning to eat at home more often than before. Other markets in this region that highlight a similar trend include South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam (62% respectively).

This study further reveals that there is a high demand for convenience and safety as consumers are forced to re-think food options without compromising on their health. Hong Kong tops the list with 46% of consumers showing a high preference for takeaway food. Similarly consumers from South Korea and Thailand (42% respectively) are choosing the food delivery option more often than before the event.

“The shifts away from out-of-home dining to at-home food delivery, takeaways and cooking during the COVID-19 period are locally nuanced by traditional consumption habits but also by the different quarantine and shutdown measures by market. For example, the Japanese have hardly increased ordering food delivery while Thailand has leaned heavily on this channel. And Hong Kong consumers have embraced food delivery and light cooking,” observes Andrea Borelli, Managing Director, Nielsen Hong Kong and Macau. “Consumer thinking and actions have been reoriented, and this will have long-term consequences. For many, old habits like eating out may forever be replaced by new habits, more apt to new, altered environments. Not only will consumers reassess where they’re eating, but they will also be far more cognizant of what they’re eating. This will be crucial for organizations seeking to navigate the short term to recognise.”

Taking a closer look at Hong Kong, while we expect digital channel usage for buying products needed on a daily basis to be less likely sustainable over the next six-nine months, we do expect a surge in demand for take-away food and food delivery service will continue.

As the COVID-19 spread globally, Hong Kong consumers reduced their dining out and sought food services with minimal human contact and involvement. Nielsen expects this to continue throughout 2020. Nielsen’s syndicated “Impact of COVID-19 on Hong Kong Consumer Market 2020” study found that the average frequency for dining out has declined from 3.70 times per week to 2.86 times per week. Comparatively, the study found that the average weekly consumption frequency for takeaway/food delivery increased to 4.30 times per week (vs. 3.31 before the epidemic) and cooking at home increased to 6.54 times per week (vs. 4.77 before the epidemic).

According to Nielsen Hong Kong MarketTrack data in Q1 2020 versus the same period a year ago, there has been a surge in key accounts value sales for categories such as non-instant pasta (+67%), sauces (+23%) and edible oil (+20%) as consumers preparing meals more often at home. Whilst on-the-go categories witnessed a decline including chewing gum (-34%), snack bar (-17%) and energy & sports drink (-11%).


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