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Things we miss: New interests, changing values amidst the pandemic

COVID-19 has caused a great deal of stress, anxiety, and disruption and, to boot, a lot of fatigue with a litany of tiresome chores and behaviors that are either entirely new because of COVID-19 (e.g., wearing a mask in public) or have been reinvigorated by the effects of quarantine (e.g., cooking from scratch). 

Along with all the agitation caused by these events, there are many things we pretty much took for granted prior to the pandemic, some of which we thought were worth noting, since we miss them and — hopefully — we aren't always going to have to live like this. We follow up “things we miss” with how the pandemic has shaped some newly invigorated interests and created new values.

Things we miss:

Obviously, pretty much everyone misses restaurants. Why? Beyond the obvious fact that restaurants are (or were) a huge "go-to" for busy households to outsource many a meal or snack from, they were also an extremely important part of how Americans celebrate, socialize and explore food culturally. There are few institutions that are missed more thoroughly from a community and "third place" standpoint than the innumerable eateries that Americans have grown so accustomed to visiting. Yes, takeout, drive-through, and delivery are great, but the mere fact that restaurant dining rooms sit empty (or, depending on region, employ weird distancing, safety and hygiene measures) represents a true loss and sense of frustration to countless consumers.

Closely aligned with missing restaurants, we miss grocerants and food halls. Why? In addition to restaurants, grocerants and food halls were the other part of the "what's for dinner?" (or lunch or snack) puzzle faced by nearly anyone heading home from work or pausing to have a meal while grocery shopping. The legendary hot-food bars of Whole Foods and Wegmans and the great food halls of nearly every city (ranging from Seattle's Pike Place Market to Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace) come to mind as yet another avenue of food discovery and experiences that are sorely missed.

We miss grocery shopping with no particular goal in mind. Remember "browsing"? Memories of browsing a Fairway Market in New York City might say it all: the smell of coffee roasting, bakery scents wafting through the air, gazing at the incredible selection of fresh cheese, deli products, fruit and produce piled high. Yes, you can still “sort of” get this experience dashing through any number of high-experience grocers that are open — but it's just not the same. We’re either shopping for food online or we shop now in brick-and-mortar stores in a regimented, utilitarian fashion to get in and out as quickly as possible. Exploration, experience, and discovery in brick-and-mortar retail have pretty much gone out the window in favor of hygiene and safety.

While many of these eating, shopping, socializing, celebrating and traveling occasions are sorely missed (or have become extremely complex due to the pandemic), there are many rekindled or newly discovered behaviors and relationships that have gained new appreciation and may even be functioning as silver lining positives during the new normal as consumers’ values evolve.

Pandemic-influenced changes within the household

  • Our deepened relationships within our households: while often difficult, it seems parents and children are learning more about each other — perhaps especially true when it comes to cooking, eating and time in the kitchen
  • Our relationships with our pets have deepened and expanded with resulting interest in pet wellness and diet
  • New investigations of cooking from scratch, canning and shopping for and ordering food online
  • New interests in food and drink to boost immunity and ways in which to improve resilience
  • Learning to be adaptive and how to improvise
  • Newfound appreciations for all thing outdoors (gardening, bicycling, sitting outside, eating outside, exercising outside)

Pandemic-influenced changes looking beyond the household

  • Deepened relationships with local "essential workers" ranging from healthcare workers and grocery clerks to food delivery workers to UPS, FedEx and USPS workers
  • New understandings of and appreciation for the efforts of local small businesses, business owners and local food producers — this would include heightened interest in local restaurants
  • Appreciation for products in stock in local food retailers
  • Education in food supply chains and the effects of interrelated food production systems
  • Appreciation for worker rights and employee safety
  • Increased understanding of what "In it together” means in terms of food insecurity, community, and social and racial justice

In addition to a reassessment of value, COVID-19’s disruptive impacts on communities, households and individuals have triggered a deeper examination of personal and collective approaches to health and well-being in our culture. As a result, we observe changes in consumer sentiment coalescing into key themes:

  • Personal empowerment, reflected in a greater focus on immunity and proactive, holistic health. Related: new emphasis on resilience as consumers reflect on their response to challenges in the present and uncertainty about the future
  • Reassessment of connectivity, with distancing measures making consumers more aware of and intentional about social interaction — its risks, rewards and implications of responsibility
  • Discussion and anticipation of systemic change, with many Americans more aware of underlying vulnerabilities and inequities in the systems that support communal well-being

Americans’ reassessment of these areas will continue to shape their values, attitudes and behavior long after the immediate crisis passes. A slow — and potentially halting — return to economic and community health may establish some of this awareness and the accompanying adaptive behaviors more firmly in US culture.

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As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company's associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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