8 ways coronavirus may change how we shop at the grocery store forever

What will shopping for food look like in the post-pandemic era? Here's what industry experts predict.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Katie Jackson

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, grocery shopping has transitioned from being a routine errand to a potentially challenging, and even dangerous, task. Many shoppers are awaiting the day when waiting in line before even getting inside the store is a distant memory. But regardless of when that day comes, it's likely the pandemic will transform the way we shop for food for many years to come.

TODAY Food spoke with a few industry insiders to get their take on the future of food shopping. Here are their predictions on what to expect in the post-pandemic era.

1. Shoppers will make fewer trips to the store

Experts suggest that even as daily life begins to return to normal, people may have to continue to wear masks until a vaccine is developed and deployed.Jamie Squire / Getty Images

According to a consumer behavior survey released by Florida-based marketing agency Acosta, shoppers are currently making 52% fewer trips than they were before the pandemic. And 47% said it's extremely or very likely they'll continue to make fewer trips post coronavirus.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietician in based in Chicago, told TODAY Food that most people she knows used to shop for food items almost every other day. "And there would be extra trips to additional stores for specialty items that aren't in their usual store," she added. While she doesn't know if people will stick to the biweekly, one-store shops they're doing now, she agreed that it's unlikely people will be shopping as frequently as before.

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2. People will stock up

The survey also found that nearly half of respondents think they'll continue to stock up more in the future. Now that people have adopted the habit of shopping for seven-plus days at a time, Jackson Blatner said the stockpiling trend is likely to continue, but doesn't think people will continue to hoard such vast quantities of essentials.

"Stocking up is a skill people will likely keep using to save time once regular pace of life takes over again," she said.

3. Goodbye browsing, hello planning

The days of spending hours browsing through the aisles may be over. If stores keep up two-cart social distancing rules, the days of impulse buys while waiting to checkout may also be a relic of the past. Instead, expect more lists.

"Right now, we're trying to go to the store as infrequently as possible, which requires forethought and creative menu planning," Trae Bodge, a lifestyle journalist who covers shopping trends, told TODAY. "I can see this kind of efficient shopping continuing once the worst of the pandemic has passed."

But even if menu planning remains a thing, recipes might not. "With fewer trips to the store there's more flexibility and creativity when people don't have all the ingredients a recipe calls for," said Jackson Blatner, who sees cooking "off script" becoming increasingly popular.

4. Curbside pickup and online ordering will be big

Jon Roesser, general manager at Weavers Way Co-op, a small chain of grocery stores in Pennsylvania, told TODAY he predicts customers will continue to want curbside pickup. For the foreseeable future, his stores will continue to offer the service.

Meanwhile, some major grocery chains are looking into offering online shopping only. Online grocery spend in the past month has already doubled, according to a new report by the fulfillment platform Fabric.

"After this is all over, I can see shoppers continuing to order online, especially those who, before COVID, struggled to squeeze shopping into their busy schedules or found shopping to be physically challenging," said Bodge. She credits the coronavirus with forcing older consumers to learn how to use technology to shop. "They'll have figured out the process and will greatly enjoy the benefits."

5. So long to samples and self-serve stations

There was a large outcry when Costco first announced it had suspended in-store sampling back in March, but it's unlikely that many stores are going to bring that practice back anytime soon, experts say. Decreasing touch points and limiting areas where cross-contamination may occur will continue to be a priority for store management teams.

"It's incredibly hard to predict when we'll be able to open things back up for our customers," Roesser said. He also thinks it would be a shame if customers could no longer try before they buy since many of his vendors are from smaller farmers markets and rely on in-store samples to introduce customers to new products.

While not every store can be Costco and have gloved employees handing out samples, he hopes smaller stores will be able to find a different and regulated way to do it safely after the pandemic.

6. Long-lasting produce will be popular

Year-on-year, fresh produce sales have continued to rise. Last month's increase was largely driven by demand for fruits, including oranges and lemons, that last longer. Potatoes have also become more popular. For weeks, they've been the top growth leader for fresh produce according to an industry report.

"Potatoes were demonized by diet trends, but during quarantine they're a life saver," said Jackson Blatner. She predicts that because they're so versatile, potatoes will have a special place in our diets and pantries going forward.

7. Frozen foods and canned goods will be favored

A customer drops a frozen food purchase into a shopping basket inside an Iceland Foods Ltd. store in Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday, Jan. 3. 2014. The Czech Republic's 2013 budget deficit of 80.9 billion koruna ($4.01 billion) beat the 100 billion-koruna target after the government cut spending, the Finance Ministry said. Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesGetty Images

If you've noticed the freezer aisle shelves look emptier than usual, you're not imagining things. Fewer trips to the store means more food needs to be freezer friendly. Some stores are even limiting the amount of frozen vegetables customers can buy. While the practice of limiting might end, demand won't disappear. "People have been reminded of the convenience of frozen veggies so they'll likely stay around post-coronavirus," said Jackson Butler.

When farm-to-table and buy local movements surged in popularity in the early 2000s, frozen and canned goods got a bad rap. But they've made a huge comeback recently. Plus, most frozen produce is just as nutritious as its fresh counterpart.

Canned food is also poised to remain a shopping-cart staple. In fact, many canned goods don't have expiration dates so in theory, they can last for years.

8. Smaller stores are making a comeback

Consumers have become all too familiar with hour-long waits at big-box retailers, so many smaller grocers have seen their businesses boom. Mike Geller, owner and manager of Mike's Organic, a grocery store in Stamford, Connecticut, told TODAY he's seeing an influx of new customers over the past month.

Initially, Geller said he received feedback that shoppers came in because they were "stymied" elsewhere. Now, however, they say they're coming back for the convenience and the diverse organic offerings.