Overview – a world reshaped by Covid-19

As the world changed in 2020, consumer attitudes and behaviours changed with it. This year’s Index explores the “sticky trends” that we expect to last beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the opportunities that each trend presents, in three key areas: home, health and the environment.

A year on from the last Tetra Pak Index, when we first charted the impact of COVID-19 on global consumers, the world has moved on considerably – although not evenly, as our research reveals significant differences from country to country, especially between developed and emerging markets.

As we look at global consumer concerns, which the Tetra Pak Index has been tracking for the past three years, we see that COVID-19 remains #1 (almost) everywhere: indeed, it has risen by 6% to 70% globally today. Concern is particularly strong in emerging markets, notably in Brazil (82%). But it is starting to ease a little in the developed world, as vaccination programmes are successfully rolled out, restrictions ease and consumers start to regain confidence.

In the US, for example, a Nielsen Audio survey in June 2021 found that 90% of respondents felt ready to resume pre-pandemic activities – 84% had already increased in-store shopping for groceries and 59% were getting together in person more.

A more holistic approach

Attitudes to health generally have shifted as the pandemic has progressed. At first, consumers focused strongly on protection and hygiene. Now we see a more holistic concern, with health and wellbeing developing as a way of staying safe and resilient in a post-COVID-19 world. There is increasing interest in functional foods, especially those that boost the immune system. There is also a growing interest in mental wellbeing, which has been greatly tested by the pandemic, with many consumers seeking comfort and energy boosts through food and beverages.

Meanwhile, concern for the environment has not gone away. As in 2020, environmental issues are again the #2 global concern, even slightly up on 2020, cited by exactly half of consumers. In the UK, respondents are actually more worried about the environment now than they are about COVID-19 (63% versus 58%) – the one country where this is the case.

Consumers are thinking more extensively about the impact of their own actions: almost half of global respondents now believe that “every choice I make in my daily life affects the environment”. Environmental concerns have broadened to include wider sustainability concerns, notably around society – especially the local community – and there is a shift towards more considered, responsible consumption. Increasingly, consumers expect products to be responsibly sourced, fairly traded and carbon neutral, as well as packaged in a recyclable container.

Financial concerns

Economic issues are #3, also slightly up on 2020, reflecting deepening worries about the financial impact of the pandemic. This has affected emerging markets more, where focus on the affordability of goods is particularly pronounced. But it is felt in the developed world, too, contributing to socioeconomic divides. In the US, the number of people using a food pantry or food bank rose from 12% in the year leading up to the pandemic to 19%. One EU-funded survey into COVID-19’s impact on consumer food behaviours in Europe found that a third of shoppers polled had lost part or all their income due to the pandemic, with more than half reporting difficulties making money last to the end of the month.

Cost consciousness is driving a number of consumer behaviours, including a back to basics approach to food purchases, favouring staples and core categories; more careful financial management/thoughtful purchasing; and more meal planning to avoid waste, which is also driven by sustainability issues.

Food safety and future food supplies are #4, a little down on 2020. Drilling down further and looking at attitudes, respondents still believe that food safety is as big a threat to society as COVID-19 (65% agree). Worries about food safety continue to be particularly strong in China, where it is a major concern for 88% of respondents – with developing countries such as South Korea, South Africa and Nigeria also strongly over-indexing.

Access to food has also become an important concern during the pandemic – again, especially in emerging markets. In Nigeria and South Africa, for example, 60% of consumers believe the pandemic has seriously disrupted the food supply system. The facts bear them out. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, hunger rose dramatically worldwide as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020. Between 720 million and 811 million people faced severe food shortages last year – an increase of 161 million over 2019.

New consumption occasions

But perhaps the most fascinating consumer developments we have seen over the past year relate to everyday behaviours around the home – which is why we analyse this topic first in this report. For 18 months or so home has been the centre of our lives, leading to the formation of new habits, routines and rituals – including a host of new and modified consumption occasions.

To understand these better, we undertook a major global Demand Space study – a key part of the particularly extensive research that has gone into this year’s Index. In this study, we analysed beverage consumption occasions and grouped them by occasion and need. From this emerged 12 Demand Spaces – defined as the intersection of context (the consumer’s demographic profile, where they are, at what time, and with whom) and the consumer’s emotional and functional needs, each unique space having a unique set of demands.

We also identified the changes in occasion occurrence for these Demand Spaces over the past year. The main increase was in health and environment-driven segments – which we explore in greater detail throughout this report.

The pandemic has reinforced the value we place on human connections, both with our family within the home, and often virtual interactions with an extended circle outside it. Shared food and beverage experiences often play a key role in making these connections enjoyable. Even when consumed alone, food and beverages have a heightened role to play in terms of health and self-care.

As some regions begin to reopen after lockdown, consumers are becoming interested in out-of-home experiences that feel safe, but are seeking to balance these with those elements of lockdown that they enjoyed – such as cooking and family mealtimes.

Packaging has a key role to play in meeting consumers’ functional, information and emotional needs. We explore these needs and how they can be met throughout this report.

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Tetra Pak Index 2021 explainer video