GLADSTONE, MO. — It’s not just US restaurants that are hurting. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic already hit food service traffic in China, and it’s cutting into sales in Europe as well.
Weekly transactions at restaurants in the United States were down 42% for the week ended March 27, said Susan Schwallie, executive director of food and beverage consumption for the NPD Group, a market research and consumer insights company, in an April 3 webinar organized by The Center for Food Integrity, Gladstone. The declines were 40% for quick-service restaurants, 81% for midscale and 79% for casual dining.
“This is very much in keeping with what we’re seeing worldwide,” she said.
China is beginning to recover from the pandemic after restaurant transactions were down about 60% in January and February.
“We’re hearing that there is normalizing (in China),” Ms. Schwallie said.
The latest figures Ms. Schwallie has seen show COVID-19 has cut restaurant transactions in half in Spain, and they are down about a third in Germany and France.
“In Italy, food service is virtually shut down right now,” she said.
COVID-19 is leading more older people, especially those over age 55, to use food delivery services in the United States, she said.
“This was also something that was experienced in China,” Ms. Schwallie said. “So this is an interesting shift, and it could have long-term implications because COVID is introducing more people to digital and online.”
People who stockpiled groceries are as likely to use foodservice delivery as those who did not. Ms. Schwallie gave three reasons why: supporting restaurants, saving their grocery stockpiles and seeking convenience, meaning people are tired of cooking for everybody in the home every day.
The days of stockpiling and empty grocery shelves could be nearing an end.
“We are hearing from the brokers and distributors that we work with that the panic buying of the last few weeks is settling down,” Ms. Schwallie said. “We know that the food and beverage manufacturers are still playing catch up with the supply chain.”
People are snacking more. Ms. Schwallie cited data from CivicScience showing 18% of US adults age 18 and over that were surveyed in the week ended March 22 said they were snacking three times a day, which was up from 11% for the week ended March 8. The percentage of people snacking four or more times a day rose to 6% on March 22 from 3% on March 8.
“People are saying that they are adding another snacking occasion,” Ms. Schwallie said.
Home baking has become more popular, too.
“I think a lot of it is, it’s activity for the kids,” Ms. Schwallie said. “It’s also a way of learning. It’s comforting. I think to a lesser degree it’s about scarcity — people being afraid that they’re going to run out of bread. What is going to be really interesting is if it hangs on. Does it cause any kind of revival? Will people want to continue in the kitchen? We’ll have to wait and see.”