By Doug Baker, Vice President, Industry Relations, FMI

social distancing

I started in the food industry with Fry’s when pricing guns were just being introduced and everyone thought they were all the rage. Back then, my parents’ ecommerce solution was asking me to call home before I left the store to see if they needed anything as I was their personal in-store shopper and delivery service!

My career in the food industry has required that I constantly learn and grow. Today, part of my responsibilities at FMI involve discovering how technology is changing the food industry. Recently, I was able to share insights gleaned from my experience by speaking at the Retailing Summit hosted by FMI’s newest university member, Texas A&M and the Mays School of Business Center for Retailing Studies. My talk at the virtual event was about the evolution of the grocery shopper in a tech-enabled environment and the profound impact the pandemic has had on the food industry.

As I shared findings from our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker series with students, many of whom are learning about the food industry virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it struck me how this up-and-coming generation of food industry workers is witnessing the food industry during a remarkable time.

We know from our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Trackers that more shoppers are utilizing online options than ever before. We’ve witnessed an acceleration in ecommerce in food retail almost overnight. There is also an increase in the categories that are being shopped online. For example, in the early days of the pandemic, 12% of first-time online grocery shoppers shopped for fresh produce, dairy, fresh meat, and packaged bread—all categories predominantly shopped for in-store prior to the pandemic

Today we know this demand for online grocery shopping exists and is likely to continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, but what will happen next? How many shoppers will remain loyal to online grocery shopping? Or will shoppers migrate back to the store, demanding the in-store theater they craved back before the COVID-19 pandemic?  

It’s certainly a fascinating time to be studying the food industry and watching the consumer trends unfold. I hope these insights help students learn as they witness this history. For further information from the Retailing Summit, please see Scott Benedict’s Key Takeaways from the 2020 Texas A&M Retailing Summit.