COVID-19 Grocery Insights May 18 

A Look into the Top DMAs in the Country

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurants, bars, and workplaces closed. Likewise, families began sheltering in place—with many cooking from their homes more frequently. With at-home food consumption up, we’ve seen fewer trips to the grocery store but higher sales as consumers spend more per trip. As many states choose to reopen business and restaurants, will people continue to spend more on groceries but visit stores less week-over-week? And what products are they buying?  

Overall Grocery Trends

From the week of May 18 through May 24, Quotient’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard showed that this trend of increased spend and decreased trips continued. Across twenty key Designated Marketing Areas (DMAs), including the ten largest DMAs, overall grocery spend was up 14.9% compared to the average weekly spend pre-COVID, while transactions were down -11% [1]. Basket size data showed that the amount purchased was up 30% on a trip to the store. With consumers making fewer trips to the store but buying more products, they’re becoming more purposeful and planning out their grocery lists in advance. Brands and retailers need to be engaging with this audience as they plan out which products make it into their carts.  

DMA-Level Differences

Chart showing the grocery dollar spend lift for the week of May 18
*Grocery dollar spend lift refers to the dollar sales value of each basket. The lift reflects the change in spend compared to the defined baseline. 

Just as COVID-19 is affecting parts of the country differently, not all DMAs are experiencing the same trends. For example, Mobile, Alabama actually experienced a 6.4% increase in transactions in addition to a 31.3% increase in grocery spend during the week of May 18 compared to transactions and spend before COVID-19.  

On the other hand, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago are experiencing much larger declines in visits to grocery stores and smaller increases in sales compared to other parts of the country. For example, in New York, transactions were down -27.9% and spend was only up 12.3% for the week of May 18.  

What People Are Buying and Searching

With larger spend and basket sizes, consumers are buying differently and preferences are shifting. Our data shows weekly insights around purchases and popular topics on social platforms. For the week of May 18, products that saw the highest sales lift compared to pre-COVID periods included some seasonal products, like sunscreen and ice pops, but also products that are driven by changing habits, like premixed cocktails. Our research shows that sales of liquor are up during COVID-19.  

Social data shows that the term “Vegetarianism” saw a 16% year-over-year increase in popularity on social platforms [2]. As consumers face meat shortages due to supply chain issues, alternative meat products and vegetarianism are experiencing increased popularity—and our data reflects that.  

How Brands Should Respond 

With these insights around popular products and trending topics, brands and retailers can create tailored campaigns to reach customers who are shopping differently during COVID-19. By engaging with consumers on the topics they’re already searching for, brands can continue to add value by acting as a trusted resource.  

Social media is a particularly useful tool for brands looking to connect while social distancing because it allows for flexibility—brands can explore text, video, and audio-based content—and reach. Let’s take the lift in “Vegetarianism,” for example. Food brands could create a social campaign showing audiences how to use canned or frozen veggies to create a meat-free meal. Household brands, on the other hand, could share advice on how to best clean fresh produce from the store or easy meal-prep tips for storing veggies in reusable containers. The key is looking for ways to educate consumers on topics they’re already interested in. Quotient’s Social product can help CPGs partner with influencers to create content that directly addresses the needs of shoppers. 

Analysis Specifications

We evaluated changes in sales performance and social trends to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on shoppers and consumers. This analysis is not adjusted for seasonality. 

Data Source: Ongoing Quotient internal reporting, inclusive of aggregated and anonymized data from multiple Quotient retail partners. 

Time Period: Starting 12/30/2019 – ongoing 

Baseline: The baseline is calculated based on the weeks of 12/30/19 through 1/20/20 

Lift: Lift is calculated by taking the percentage change in the applicable metric compared to the baseline week-over-week. 

Basket Size: Basket Size is defined as the average spend per consumer.

Grocery Dollar Spend: Grocery Dollar Spend is a measure of total grocery sales, which is a combination of transactions and basket size.

Lift for social data is calculated by taking the percent change in social engagement compared to the previous year week-over-week.