By: Mark Baum, FMI Chief Collaboration Officer and Senior Vice President of Industry Relations, FMI
Like many of you, I have been following the march toward COVID-19 herd immunity for months. I’ve also been considering the personal considerations for consumers and the business implications for the food industry. I’ve taken note of how the issue of consumer trust in government, non-profit and private sectors has an impact on getting more people vaccinated. I’ve observed some employers offering employees financial incentives to be vaccinated and many more monitoring registrations and vaccine rollouts in their own communities. Through it all, there has been one resource I’ve found invaluable.
Pandemic navigator tool, the vaccine roll-out and immunity timing
The FMI partnership with Oliver Wyman has provided FMI members access to and insights derived from the Oliver Wyman Pandemic Navigator, which is a leading forecasting tool listed by the CDC and consistently recognized as a top-performing model by independent studies.
The Oliver Wyman Pandemic Navigator is highly accurate and offers county-level forecasts for all U.S. counties and major metropolitan areas along with scenario analysis to estimate the timing to achieve “herd immunity” around the country. As of late February 2021, case trends are declining in the U.S., averaging 81K new cases per day, compared to 250K post-holidays. COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased 53% in the last four weeks and there has been a decrease in the average number of deaths per day. While virus mutations have been detected and are increasing in 42 states, the vaccine rollout has begun.
In March 2021, we have seen increased vaccine supply, faster administration and greater population vaccination willingness, all of which will help us achieve herd immunity. As the immunization pace accelerates and administration capacity expands, we are optimistic that herd immunity may be achieved in the U.S. by early to mid-summer. We can expect this timing to differ by state, as some states have in effect acquired more immunity through natural infection. Also, the vaccine rollout pace varies among states and the degree of vaccine hesitancy differs regionally. See the navigator maps for the immunity details for your market and region.
Leveraging pandemic navigator for the grocery sector
As we move toward herd immunity, virologists expect COVID-19 to become endemic, meaning even once we reach herd immunity, we can expect localized outbreaks and COVID-19 immunizations (like annual flu shots) to become part of the “next normal.”
For the food sector, the pandemic disruption has accelerated digital shopping trends but also saw a huge pivot from “out of” to “in-home” dining. We will continue to experience basket consolidation with fewer consumer shopping trips as the market share shifts to favour local stores and “one-stop shops.” Retailers need to stay focused on these trends, consumer needs and preferences to win. More than half of internet users are now buying groceries online. Barriers to ecommerce in grocery have been permanently removed and online grocery shopping is here to stay. There has been a change in eating habits with consumers seeking better-for-you options with health benefits while they seek comfort in familiar and/or nostalgic brands. Food retailers are intentionally designing shopping experiences that compete for “ready-made” meals and loyalty program features that are built around emotional engagement and new customer requirements and enhance more personalized shopping trips, both online and in-store. There has been a suspension of the “rules of the game” for promotions. Promotion programs are slowly returning to normal, but look different: more digital, more personal, with different elasticity guidelines.
As we think through the herd immunity implications on our food industry business planning, I appreciate the insights and guidance from our strategic partner, Oliver Wyman. I hope you will dive into the maps and insights found within the online Oliver Wyman Pandemic Navigator. For specific questions, feel free to reach out to Hunter Williams at Oliver Wyman.