Like the Great Depression of the 20th century, this century’s first pandemic is going to make impressions on each of us that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
… from the desk of Ed Engoron
How you doin’? No, I mean it. How are you really doing? The last 18 to 20 months have been the most stressful times of our lives—lockdowns, shortage of hospital beds and protective equipment, deaths, separations from family and friends, schools shuttered, business closures and a myriad of confusing government policies, directives, and edicts.
Looking back to the very beginning (no, I don’t mean when God created the heavens and earth) of the pandemic we all thought that our lock-down was going to be short-lived. Who could have believed it would be near a year and for many even longer? It is apparent now that Covid-19 and its disciples, Delta and Mu, are going to have a lasting effect on our daily lives. It is not unlike that which our parents and grandparents lived through during the Great Depression.
From a narrow food point of view—that’s what we know and the space we work in—the pandemic upended Americans’ lives in significant ways. It changed how, where and what we eat, drink and snack, how we shop, how we entertain ourselves and how we communicate with our family, friends, bosses, and coworkers. It continues to shape how we build new homes and office buildings and what our workplaces will look like in the future. Looking back, we can roughly measure the phases of the pandemic by the shifting household behaviors we see within our own families.
When this all got started and we were locked down, we got calls nearly every day from clients, family, friends, even complete strangers on how to prepare and cook a particular recipe. For a while I thought I was back on my ABC show Stump the Chef. That’s when we decided to write our daily Covid-19 Survival Recipe Guide (now published three times per week). In the meantime, we triaged our most affected clients, consulting with restaurant, hotels, resorts, theme parks, cruise ships and airlines. There was plenty wrong and plenty to do figuring out how to make the best of a really bad situation.
No one had a clue how long all this craziness would last. While it was a most unsettling time for us all, some were excited to have some extra time at home as long as they still got paid. Essential businesses were looking for work arounds and we all discovered Zoom meetings. Those less secure in their financial situations were just plain scared waiting to hear what kind of assistance city, state and federal governments were going come up with.
As we started to figure it out—at least in the immediate term—we began settling into daily life at home. In Los Angeles, a daily one-way commute can be as long as 1-1/2 hours. We asked ourselves, is working from home all that bad? Not really, if you could spend more time with your partner and kids—and maybe even get that dog that you had been talking about for a few years. Finally, when we realized the pandemic had no end in sight, we started to establish new routines for everything including cooking. We discovered Instant Pots and Sous-Vide cooking. We rediscovered frozen vegetables and pizza. We experimented with baking and took the time to teach our kids how to cook (for the first time in nearly 40 years).
Right around 5 or 6 months in to the pandemic, experimental cooking was replaced with cooking fatigue—“I can’t make one more meal or wash another pot.” But everyone still needed to be fed and this created a rush for grocery and restaurant meal deliveries, microwaveable dinners, and lots of comforting snacks. Grocery freezer sections, which had been lagging for years, experienced a sudden resurgence as food processors increased their offerings and the quality of their frozen foods to meet the new pandemic demand.
All of this was exacerbated by politicians and so-called health experts who were constantly changing direction as to what was required and where we could go. It became and is still confusing. We haven’t discussed politics on this blog in the past and don’t plan to in the future, but I will say that the confusion and missteps can be blamed on both sides—enough blame and shame to go around no matter what side of the political spectrum you lean toward. I concluded the smartest politician are ones with duct tape stretched across their mouths. But I digress…
This collective upending of our lives led to more scrutiny of the foods we eat (where is it made, is it organic, read the nutritionals, study the ingredient declarations, what are the additives?) and the reliance of tech-assisted devices and omnichannel consumer shopping and eating behavior—more than just supermarkets and restaurants… the internet presented a whole world of new choices. Anything goes any time of day—Hamburgers for breakfast, cereal for dinner, 5 meals a day instead of 3. Increased meals and snacks and decreased exercise routines resulted in the expansion of our waistlines. The “Covid 19” weight gain led to increased purchases of personal exercise equipment and class subscriptions and even “magic mirrors” with virtual coaches and drill sergeants.
Pre-pandemic the heart of the house was the entertainment center—TVs, smart phones, tablets, and gaming. Today, in many homes, the heart of the home shifted to the kitchen. The kitchen has become more important during the pandemic, not just for cooking but for entertainment as well. People with a fair amount of discretionary income have reworked their kitchens making room for new appliances, countertops, cabinets and floor and wall coverings.
With everyone home at mealtime, families once again bonded over meals and many even enjoyed cooking together. In which closet did we put that slow cooker Aunt Sarah sent us when we got married? Before the pandemic the average meal provider felt comfortable making about 5 things; now there is a rush to experiment.
An early 2021 survey reported that 38% of households had purchased a small kitchen appliance, such as an air fryer, Instant Pot, Crock Pot or Sous-Vide cooking device. With these new techy cooking devices, the fear of meal failure all but disappeared which was once one of the key impediments to trying new recipes. These techy devices enhance smaller kitchens and help make meals in a flash. Others accounting for top dollar growth, included electric indoor grills/griddles (+68%), toaster ovens (+58%) and waffle irons/sandwich makers (+50%). For the more adventurous home chefs looking to make “made-from-scratch” a little easier, appliances such as electric pasta makers and fondue sets fit the bill, with 111% and 77% dollar sales growth, respectively. At the same time, Instant Pot, and air fryers, maintained momentum all throughout 2020 and well into 2021.
What does all this mean long term?
Over the last 18 months, we’ve learned a lot more about the foods we eat, how to shop for them and how to cook new things. We turned inside—toward the family—learning to trust and help one another. More than anything else, we learned a lot about ourselves and how versatile and resilient we are. As Americans we can get survive just about anything. And that’s a good thing because the next chapter has yet to be written. With looming supply chain shortages and logistics challenges, together with increasing inflation and economic fall-out as government supports expire, we’re in for a bumpy ride.
Watch this space for more analysis and insights.
#HumanBehavior #GreatDepression #EdEngoron #FutureTrends #QuarantineKitchen #Covid19 #FeedingAmerica #PerspectivesTheConsultingGroup
©Perspectives/The Consulting Group, Inc., 2021
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