Coronavirus Comfort Food (And Booze)

April 27, 2020

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

That has been my go-to comfort food since California initiated a statewide stay-at-home order in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Around the same time the order first started in mid-March, I made a quick beeline to my local supermarket and managed to grab among the hordes a jar of peanut butter, a squeezable bottle of jelly and good old-fashioned Hostess brand white bread. And every night since, dessert has consisted of me having a PB&J and thinking to myself: Hey, it could be worse.

Comfort food. That’s what a lot of Americans are turning to find solace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with industry officials reporting strong sales of items like chips, frozen pizza and other not-so-healthy items.

“People seem to be craving comfort food,” said Kai Bockmann, president of dairy product maker Saputo, which reported surging sales of string cheese.

Back To (Morning) Basics

Breakfast items, in particular, are enjoying a sudden rise in popularity as people are gravitating toward a sense of familiarity to help them find a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think families are turning to things like cereal to instill a sense of what’s familiar, what’s normal, something they trust,” said Ricardo Fernandez, president of the U.S. cereal business at General Mills, where sales of cereal like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix and Lucky Charms are booming. “People who used to skip breakfast may come back to breakfast because their normal routine has been disrupted.”

With the rise in items like cereal comes the increase in dairy sales, which increased 60% year-over-year in the week ending March 22, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. That increase marks a sudden reversal for products like fluid milk, which had previously been falling in popularity for years.

It also helps that with everyone staying at home, parents and children are now eating alongside each other more, said Michael Dykes, CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association.

“It’s kind of like yesteryear, if you will,” Dykes said. “They’re all there with nothing to go to, so they’re eating meals as a family. They’re having breakfast together.”

Amateur Baking Hour

Many Americans are using the extra time at home to try their hand at baking. According to Nielsen data, sales of baking yeast were up 457% year-over-year for the week ending March 28, while flour sales were up 155%, baking powder was up 178%, butter was up 73% and eggs were up 48%.

This, in turn, is putting a lot of suppliers under pressure. Kelly Olson, a spokeswoman for Red Star Yeast, said the rise in demand was unexpected and the company is doing all it can to replenish empty store shelves. Flour maker Central Milling said on its website that "significant" increases in online orders led to out-of-stock items. Bob's Red Mill, which is known for its wide selection of grains and flours, also posted a note to customers describing an "unprecedented" surge in demand. And Hopkinsville Milling Co. reported packing twice as much flour as normal.

Comfort Booze

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that alcohol sales in the U.S. are up as well since the coronavirus pandemic began. Liquor stores are considered an “essential” business in 40 states as well as Washington, D.C., and several cities and states are temporarily removing restrictions of online liquor sales. In the third week in March, Nielsen reported alcohol sales rising 55% year-over-year.

Additionally, happy hours are still continuing in the country, only now they’re at home instead of at bars and restaurants, said David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council.

"Recently we've seen a lot of pre-mixed cocktails, and that is really indicative of the fact that there are a lot of folks who previously might have gone to a bar or restaurant and now they are serving themselves at home," Ozgo said.

Nevin Barich is the Food and Beverage Analyst at Industry Intelligence, which can help YOU better address your own industry challenges. To arm yourself with the latest market intelligence, contact ClientCare@IndustryIntel.com or call 310-553-0008 if you’re interested in receiving or sharing the IMPACT report with your colleagues or partners

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