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Indians have once again been pushed indoors, as local authorities across the country impose mobility restrictions to control the second covid wave. It is too early to say how hard consumer sentiments will be hit. But survey data suggests that some pandemic-led changes in shopping habits may get entrenched as Indians adapt to lockdown routines once more.

A global survey of 18,000 consumers conducted by YouGov across 17 large markets globally shows that the pandemic has already shifted consumption patterns of Indians much more than others.

Leading Change

In each of the 17 markets surveyed, a plurality of consumers said that their grocery shopping habits have changed over the course of the coronavirus crisis. Consumers in Mexico reported the highest level of change in their shopping habits- at 83%. India follows close behind, with 81% respondents saying their shopping habits have changed now.

It is worth noting that while the survey was nationally representative in most developed markets such as the UK and the US, in emerging markets such as Mexico and India, it was primarily representative of urban areas.

China was among the least affected markets globally, the data suggests. The virus was first detected there, and the country saw a devastating lockdown in the early part of 2020 but since then, the Chinese economy has rebounded faster than others. Germany, which managed the pandemic better than most countries, also reported similar figures as China.

Scheduled Shopping

For the most part, grocery shopping became a planned affair for most consumers during the pandemic. This was more so in the Asia-Pacific region, with consumers from Indonesia (92%) and India (90%) leading the pack. Very few consumers in these markets said they would buy things on impulse, or just when they needed to buy.

Even in North American markets, a majority took to planned shopping but the proportion was lower than in Asian markets. In the US, just 74% reported planning their grocery purchases. Europe saw the most variation in terms of shopping routines. In Italy, 95% of consumers planned their regular shopping. In Denmark, this figure was far lower at 69%. Germany too saw a relatively lower proportion of respondents reporting planned grocery purchases (77%).

The YouGov survey on FMCG consumption was conducted across all regions in December 2020, before the second wave hit India, but well after the second wave hit most developed markets.

Changing Basket

The survey shows that different consumption categories have been impacted differently across markets. Globally, 38% said they ate more fresh fruits and vegetables, while just 6% said they ate less.

The demand for junk foods sustained even as more people ate food cupboard items, frozen foods, and baked goods. The intake of chilled ready meals also increased in many markets.

Around a quarter of respondents reported higher alcohol consumption. About a fifth said they had less alcohol than before. Dairy consumption went up for 24% of global respondents, while it decreased for 6%.

Across markets, fewer respondents purchased cosmetics, as opportunities to go out declined because of lockdowns. Nearly a third of respondents globally said they purchased fewer cosmetics, and only a tenth said they had increased such purchases.

Indian Patterns

The share of respondents who reported greater intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was much higher in India than in most other countries. Many more respondents in India said their intake of junk food had come down. But many more Indians also said that their alcohol consumption had gone up.

In fact, India (29%) and China (27%) were the leading markets where people said that they have consumed more alcohol during the pandemic than before.

Among urban Indians, the share of those who increased consumption of frozen foods (27%) was nearly similar to the global average (29%). But in contrast to global trends, about a third of Indian respondents reported a decline in consumption of frozen foods. The global average was much lower. Consumption of cosmetics was broadly along global lines in the country, but the share of those who saw a fall in cosmetics purchases was slightly higher in the case of India (36%).

Future Plans

Although supermarkets continued to find shoppers throughout the pandemic, many consumers – perhaps mindful of the impact the pandemic has had on local businesses – are pledging to support retailers who are a little closer to home.

Across all 17 markets, three in five consumers (60%) said they intend to support local businesses and buy more local products once the pandemic has subsided. Support for local businesses was much higher in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Mexico, and India, where mom-and-pop stores are preponderant, and were able to maintain operations even when supermarkets struggled. Richer Asian markets such as Singapore and Hong Kong saw far less support for local businesses than the global average.

Beyond supporting local businesses, over half (54%) of the people surveyed in the study said they intend to buy more sustainable products once the pandemic is over. Indonesia (79%), Mexico and India (74% each) reported the highest numbers in this regard.

Yougov India is the Indian arm of the global market research firm, Yougov.

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