The prolonged impact of Covid-19 is fundamentally changing consumer behaviour across the world, and it will continue to change well into the future.

That’s the view of Nicole Corbett, director of Nielsen’s intelligence unit, who believes Asia’s new consumer landscape post-Covid-19 will be vastly different to what the fresh produce industry is used to.

Speaking at Asiafruit Congress ON, Corbett highlighted how time was a critical factor in looking ahead, and planning for the future.

“As second waves occur, the longer the recovery time stretches out, the bigger the behavioural shifts will be. They will become more permanent into the future,” she explained.

“Economies have been disrupted the world over, mass unemployment has occurred and is unlikely to recover quickly. We do not anticipate a quick rebound to past behaviour, instead we’re expecting a complete reset among consumers.”

Corbett said that although Asia’s second wave hasn’t been as severe as other parts of the world, the pandemic has impacted the way consumers spend and interact with their food.

“What Covid has shown us is consumers aren’t equal. There are constrained consumers, who have been impacted by health or income loss. Then there are insulated consumers, who have experienced no financial hardship, they stayed at home and had more money to spend,” she explained.

As a region, Asia has been a leader in the adoption of e-commerce platforms. Markets like China, Japan, Korea and Singapore have been at the forefront of this uptake, but Corbett pointed towards developing markets, like India, as an example of how quickly consumers have adapted to a disrupted lifestyle.

“Asian consumers have replaced going out with cooking at home,” she noted. “Asking consumers what they are doing differently, 41 per cent of Asian consumers are cooking at home more regularly compared to 37 per cent globally. This represents big opportunities for fresh.”

Another key trend to have emerged in Asia over recent years, and one that Covid-19 has defined even further, is the need for convenience. As Corbett put it, “Asia’s on-the-go lifestyle was interrupted by Covid-19, and this created a huge need for convenience.

“That need is still very strong, but it’s just in a different format – consumers are at home, they want food and grocery delivered to them in real time with fast turnaround. We haven’t seen this before,” she explained. “Simply put, there are more occasions for consumers to be using the products at home.”

But with home-delivered groceries comes another key concern – food safety.

“In a lot of the research we’ve done, safety is a number one concern. When we think about fresh fruit and vegetables, and the tactile way people shop for them – be it picking up the item, tasting it, smelling it – I think it’s a totally different change that retailers and suppliers will need to consider,” explained Corbett.

“Across retailers, there are fewer touch points thanks to hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. In China, we saw temperature testing the whole way through, from preparation to delivery, so I think that transparency is going to be come key over time.”

Moving forward, Corbett believes all consumers – constrained and insulated – will be cautious of the future, with or without a vaccine.

“The key thing is, there is no instant cure. A vaccine does offer hope and can boost consumer confidence, and we hope that will help encourage consumers to go out and spend,” she noted.

“But value for money is a big deal for consumers. Promotions came to a halt during Covid-19 to control the supply, and as such big demand for a lot of products occurred.

“As supply chains slowly start to normalise, the level of promotional activity has not returned, and this is a positive for suppliers because we are able to reset what value means. Value is not just about the price, it’s the total package of benefits,” she explained.

“At the end of the day, we need to understand that consumers behaviour has changed. Our strategies from the past are no longer relevant. We need to know what they want, what they’re consuming and the value it holds,” concluded Corbett.

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Asia Fruit Logistica ON takes place online on 18-20 November.

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