Meeting Consumer Demand Now and Preparing for the Future “New Normal”

Aug 10, 2020 | Food Processing & Packaging

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on consumer behavior. People have gone from spending a significant portion of their food budget at restaurants to eating primarily at home. Shopping for everything has moved almost entirely online. And there’s no telling when hand sanitizer might again be easy to acquire.

These fast and dramatic changes to the supply side of the market have left many manufacturers struggling to adjust their operations. Food and beverage manufacturers have had to ramp up production, and many have had to change their processes to produce goods for retail, rather than foodservice. Many companies — particularly distilleries — have transformed their lines to produce hand sanitizer. And manufacturers across the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries have had to adjust to the realities of e-commerce.

Added to all of these changes are supply chain disruptions and extra labor concerns (manufacturing was already short-handed before the pandemic). The result is that many companies are just plain struggling to keep up.

In Packaging World’s June COVID-19 survey, “meeting demand” was the second biggest concern, identified by 18% of respondents (the biggest concern was employee health/safety at 23%). Most of the respondents were from the food and beverage industry, so it’s no surprise that they identified “packaging demand mix changes” and “changing from a foodservice provider to a retail provider” as specific examples of challenges.

When the pandemic started, no one knew how long it would take for things to get back to “normal.” Now, it’s looking increasingly like the normal of the future will be vastly different from the normal of the past. 

survey in the UK found that only 9% of Britons even want life to return to normal. Many people find some of the changes the pandemic has brought — such as cooking at home more — have been positive. Of course, Americans are different from Britons, but some evidence suggests that the general attitude is the same. More than half (54%) of Americans are cooking more than they did before the pandemic and 51% plan to continue to do so after it’s over. More than half of Americans (52%) are also buying groceries online, and it’s hard to imagine that they will give up that convenience to go back to the store any time soon.

The point is that what consumers want has changed, possibly for good. The companies that transition now — by increasing production, shifting their product focus, or adapting their packaging for different distribution channels — will be the ones that thrive both now and in whatever new normal the future brings.

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