Food Voyager

COVID-19 has changed our food consumption habits

Jaldeep Sodhi, CEO of Apex Avalon, a strategy consulting firm based in Singapore, shares insights on how COVID19 will impact our behaviours and certainly our food consumption habits.

At the outset, let me confess – I love food. I love to eat out. I love to eat out often, some may say too often. And it’s not just me. I am part of a growing herd. Our taste buds crave variety. Our other senses – of smell, of sight, too seek change, ever so often. 

This has led to a surge in out-of-home consumption of food. This has also led to a surge in order-ins. We don’t mind paying a premium for a great gastronomic experience. We would like to have many such experiences in a month, perhaps even within a week- but different experiences. We want variety. And we don’t mind paying for it.

With growing prosperity more of us have the ability to pay, and with growing awareness or perhaps with social media-fed voyeurism, also the desire. This has led to a mushrooming of restaurants, QSRs, cafes, bars and bakeries. I have seen this in India, in Singapore, in Indonesia, in Vietnam, in Saudi Arabia, in Nigeria. 

COVID has put a spanner in the spokes. Weeks of lockdown, of being confined indoors, of being suspicious of strangers, of being suspicious of friends, has changed our world, especially our gastronomic world. A new normal has set in. And it is here to stay. 

When things open up, will you still want to go out to eat with your four-year-old in tow? Will you still want to step out for a cold beer and a bite with your 75-year-old Dad? Perhaps you will, but only to outlets where you are sure of the safety. And perhaps not as often. That there will be a serious demand-destruction for out-of-home dining I am certain of. Consequently, for these outlets, costs of operations will rise too with higher safety standards. It is a double whammy not many will survive.

So will you then order-in? This certainly will reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. But will it eliminate the risk, I think not. I know I will have a niggling doubt about the safety of food being ordered-in. I will also worry about the person who is delivering the food. There will be more people like me. Order-ins too will get impacted. Deliveroo has slashed its workforce by a quarter in Singapore. Swiggy has cut 1000 jobs in India. Order-ins will not hit a wall, as will out-of-home dining, but the new normal will see the demand dampen.

This will put you and me in a fix. The out-of-home options available to satiate our taste buds, we will no longer trust as much. But the taste buds will still tingle. I reckon, more and more of us will turn to our kitchens. We will cook, bake, brew and grill more at home. With work-from-home now here to stay, we will have more time on our hands – that will help. We will turn master chefs, many will engage our children too. We will bring in groceries, ingredients, or perhaps we will order them in. 

We will also appreciate ready-to-cook preparations that will take the drudgery away from cooking. Tomato purées, pre-blended spices, frying batter etc will all be welcome.  

Now the question is for how long will this last? I think this will last for quite a while. We don’t know how the lockdown exits are going to pan out. Will we see rising infections as we exit, hence more lockdowns?  Perhaps we will. 

What I am certain of is that our food consumption pattern will change. Companies focused on in-home food preparation will rise with the tide, those focused on out-of-home food consumption will be at risk with the ebb. 

(Jaldeep Sodhi is also an avid traveller and a passionate photographer, poet and cyclist.) 

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