According to the CDC, 29.1% of Americans had been vaccinated by April 26.1 The vaccination rollout is happening quicker than expected, serving as one factor in foodservice’s return to normalcy. And operators are feeling the optimism. As of March, only 8% of foodservice operators were “very nervous” their operations wouldn’t bounce back. More than 50% claimed they were cautiously optimistic and expecting to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.2
Consumers are also optimistic. While only 13% had started meeting friends at a restaurant or bar in March, 25% said they would feel safe doing it or had already started making plans. An additional 37% said they would meet friends at a restaurant or bar as long as everyone was still masked and following distancing guidelines.2
Restaurants had to get creative at the onset of the pandemic, from offering toilet paper with curbside orders to selling meals ready to cook at home through local retailers. A lot of lines were blurred between restaurants and retail – with great success. It isn’t like butcher shops didn’t exist inside restaurants pre-COVID, but the pandemic pushed more restaurants to try this model. Now, many consumers are used to these options. I know I, for one, have made a habit out of picking up a Hopdoddy “Quarantine Together” meal kit curbside and taking it to my brother’s house for fresh grilled burgers (and those delicious truffle fries!). While some restaurants may find these new offerings don’t fare as well post-pandemic, we expect many to see their success continue even once dining rooms are full again.
Restaurants also started offering more takeout, curbside and delivery options during the pandemic. We expect super upscale places may stop these offerings once they return to normal dining operations, but the vast majority of restaurants that have found success with these off-premises dining options will continue them.
In this blog series we talked about how chefs have taken on the role of influencer during the pandemic, helping consumers gain confidence in their home cooking skills as well as finding a way to continue sharing their passion for food. While this can be expected to slow some as restaurants get busier, many chefs seem to have found a second calling sharing their knowledge on social media. Leveraging social channels in this way is also a great marketing tactic to publicize the chef’s restaurant. We think there will be more collaboration between brands and chefs as well as more professional cooks on social media in general.
One thing that became apparent during the pandemic that is going to become even more critical as the nation fully reopens is the foodservice/processor partnership. During the height of last summer, that relationship helped restaurants learn what proteins were out of stock, how much was available and when the delivery was going to make it. Those worries are less of an issue now, but there’s a new problem. Retailers who saw meat sales soar last year are unsure how the return of foodservice will impact their meat case.
According to Numerator, meat is the grocery item most vulnerable to seeing sales decrease once restaurants fully reopen.3 And restaurants in full swing won’t be the only threat to the meat case. Many consumers who were out of work during the pandemic or who work in lower-paying fields have been able to afford fresh meat and restaurant meals with the help of the government stimulus checks. According to our January COVID-19 research, 33% of consumers had seen a decrease in income since the pandemic began and for more than half of those, the decrease was 25% or more.4 As government stimulus becomes a thing of the past, many consumers will still be struggling financially and might have to trade down at the meat case or eliminate meat from their meals.
Consumers, restaurant operators and the meat industry all look forward to seeing what the post-pandemic normal has in store. Over the last year and change, we learned to adapt, pivot and get creative when the going got tough. That experience will serve us well in the future – whatever that holds.
This is the fifth in a series of blogs diving into the future of foodservice post-pandemic through the lens of meat marketers. For more information on how the coronavirus has changed the meat industry, visit our COVID-19 Insights Hub.