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What Was Considered Passé Is Now In Style Again

Packaged, shelf-stable foods have made a roaring comeback.

If you’re a reader of the blogs on this site you’re undoubtedly aware of the contemporary preferences of the millennial generation and many others towards fresher, less-processed foods. It seems that a pandemic, however, has flipped that narrative on its head.

A recent Credit Suisse report shows that groceries now constitute 80% of the average consumer’s spending on food. (It was closer to 50% before the pandemic.) It’s interesting, though, that the increase in spending doesn’t necessarily include more fresh foods. For example, during a week at the height of the pandemic, IRI data showed an 8 percent increase in fresh produce sales while frozen and shelf-stable foods skyrocketed over 40 and 50 percent, respectively.

It seems that the coronavirus has consumers filling their pantries with shelf-stable foods like canned vegetables, soups, stews, and beans. Others are looking for alternatives to fresh meat and finding them in the center store and freezer aisles.

The proof is in the sales numbers. A recent Nielsen survey showed canned meat sales up by nearly 60%. Correspondingly, the largest manufacturers of packaged foods have increased production to meet demand. The latest quarterly statements for these companies report increases of retail sales from 15% to as much as 35% during the March to May period.

Some of the drivers of this trend are obvious; it makes perfect sense that consumers are concerned about food availability with restrictions on shopping and human being’s hoarding tendencies. Shelf-stable foods that will keep for months, even years, are highly appealing during these unsettled times. Also, with financial concerns mounting, packaged foods with their relatively low cost are winning over consumers.

There may be other psychological forces at work as well. Times of crisis like the current pandemic cause high stress levels in many people; prolonged stress can damage the body and mind’s equilibrium. To restore balance, a common physiological response is to consume “comfort foods.” These foods—often high in calories, sugar, or fat—often trigger a temporary emotional response and provide some stress relief. Comfort foods can also include brands that that are familiar or remind a person of simpler, happier times.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic has caused consumers to see new value in shelf-stable, prepackaged foods,” says Pawel Marciniak, President of IPM Foods. “Restocking the pantry in uncertain times satiates our survival instincts, and consumers are finding comfort in older, established brands. These trends present packaged food brands with a unique opportunity to reconnect with consumers, particularly younger buyers.”

IPM Foods works with Tetra Recart™, a retortable carton packaging solution, to help food manufacturers launch  new  products as well as providing a modern way to bring those classic staples to the store shelves. IPM Foods is a leading North American consultant in carton food packaging, innovating the way soups, vegetables, meats and beans are packaged and sold. To discuss a packaging audit or to learn more, contact an IPM Foods representative today.

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