Consumption and Covid-19, how italian spending has changed in a year of pandemic

One year from the first closures due to Covid-19, in March 2020, we can say that our life has not returned “normal” and will hardly return as before, because some of the changes that have occurred in recent months will also accompany us in the future. Our purchases have been strongly influenced by the pandemic: all sectors except food have collapsed and even in this area important transformations have been seen. In particular, in the emergency some trends that were already emerging took hold. TheIsmea (Institute of services for the agricultural food market) has published a report in which, a year after the first lockdown, we try to identify which of these trends will accompany us in the future.

      Food spending has increased. While it is estimated that spending on catering has decreased by 42%, that for domestic food consumption in 2020 recorded a + 7.4%, with peaks of + 20% in March. With the summer the situation has normalized, and then return, in winter, to higher levels than the previous year. The growth mainly affected packaged products (+8%), but also fresh products (+5.9%).

      All product sectors have contributed to growth, but some in particular. Spending on eggs – the category with the best performance – grew by 15% in the year (with peaks of 42%). The one for meat of about 10%, such as cheeses; milk saw a +3.9%, driven by long-life milk, while fresh milk recorded a -5%. Cured meats grew by 8.3%. The trend of fish is below average: a slight decrease for fresh, while frozen fish recorded a + 16%; this is because fish products are considered more “difficult” and less suitable for stockpiling, except frozen foods.

      Spending on vegetables grew by 9%. It should be noted the decline in the iv range products, ready for consumption (salads in bags), which have become useless, given the time available, while potatoes, frozen foods and tomato products grow. Fruit jumped by about 9%, although the growth is attributable to the increase in prices rather than to that of volumes. Citrus fruits are at +15.5% and fruit juices are down. Not being able to go out for dinner or for an aperitif, spending on alcoholic beverages grew, with beer at +11.2% and the wine and sparkling wine sector at +8.1%. As for cereal derivatives, fresh bread saw a decrease (-8%), as well as recurrence desserts (-12%), while flours recorded a + 38%, first courses +15%, frozen pizzas +10.5% and pasta +8.9.

     The home kitchen has conquered, as a consequense, a new space. Staying indoors all day, many of us have rediscovered the pleasure of cooking. If for several years Italians have been fascinated by broadcasts dedicated to recipes, cooking competitions and challenges between chefs, only during last spring they really put their hands in the dough. After a first phase characterized by the boom of frozen foods and canned goods, to fill the pantries, we cannot forget the disappearance of brewer’s yeast from the shelves of supermarkets and the explosion in the sales of flour. Because among the many recipes we have experimented, bread and pizza could not be missing. The kitchen has thus become a creative space, also useful for entertaining children and counteracting pandemic stress and anxiety. It is a trend that seems consolidated, in fact the basket of ingredients for cooking at home (eggs, flour, yeast, butter, sugar, oil) resists even after several months.

     Food delivery has established itself. The habit of ordering a meal – pizza, burgers, Chinese –, and having it delivered home, had been spreading for some time now, but during the lockdown it allowed many Italians to improvise a dinner or to do something “special” when you could not go out to eat. This on the other hand has guaranteed some entry to the world of catering severely tried by the closure. In fact, there are many restaurants that, not being able to open, have offered the service at home.

     The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards deglobalisation. If on the one hand sushi, pokè and other “exotic” specialties are increasingly widespread, for several years there has been a strong revaluation of “local eating”. Products made in Italy or linked to particular territories are very successful, as well as farmers’ markets and purchases from producers.

     Feeding and prevention still important in people’s life. Worried about the virus, in search of something that would allow us to prevent infection, attention to the relationship between food and health has increased, which has led to looking in food for tools to strengthen the immune system. Perhaps for this reason in 2020 there has been a boom in the consumption of oranges.

      An undeniable effect of the pandemic has been the acceleration of the digitization process. Last March it was almost impossible to buy a webcam, because with children in distance learning and parents in smartworking at home, everyone had to participate in lessons, meetings or streaming meetings. Thus, the emergency has forced many of us to familiarize ourselves with tools and methods previously unknown, accelerating an indispensable process, already in place for some years. Not being able to leave the house and being open only the “essential” activities, many Italians have made purchases online. A phenomenon that mainly concerns items other than food but in 2020 the purchases of food products have increased considerably, and this channel has also become a tool for the direct sale of farms

     The pandemic has stimulated important reflections on the way in which human beings exploit animals and the planet, making the aspects related to environmental and social sustainability increasingly relevant. The awareness of the impact of their choices pushes many consumers to look for sustainable products, involving aspects such as the use of pesticides, animal welfare, packaging methods. Interestingly, during the spring of 2020 purchases of organic products increased by 11%, indicating attention to sustainability and availability to spend.

      On the other hand, the economic crisis generated by the pandemic and the reduction in income that has affected a large part of Italians, have increased the number of people in difficulty, those who do the shopping must look first of all at the price. The analysis of expenditure by income brackets, carried out by Ismea, highlights a polarization of purchases: preference of premium products for the most economically sound families and price orientation for those in difficulty. This explains the success of discounters and that of items with the supermarket brand, which grow by 9.3%. Probably future consumption will also be played on these delicate balances between quality, sustainability and convenience.

by Alessia Mugnano