Foodservice COVID-19 recovery moves from spigot to surge

Consumer interest in foodservice has been steadily building this spring after the dramatic slowdown in demand a year ago due to the onset of COVID-19.

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Consumer interest in foodservice has been steadily building this spring after the dramatic slowdown in demand a year ago due to the onset of COVID-19.

“Last March, the spigot got shut off. We were basically at a drip,” Joe Pawlak, the Managing Principal of Technomic, explained during State of the Industry – 2021 Supply Disruption.

“As of mid-March, we started seeing a surge in terms of restaurant and foodservice business coming back. Sales are coming back. Consumers are coming back. There are a lot more dollars being spent.”

There is a lot of pent-up demand for foodservice. According to recent research from Technomic, 68% of consumers say that they are very excited to dine in at restaurants again once it is safe.

There are several factors driving the surge in foodservice demand:

Vaccinations

In the U.S., 85 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, more than a quarter of the country’s total population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“More and more people are getting vaccinations,” said Pawlak, adding that, in many cases, these fully-vaccinated consumers now feel more comfortable dining in at restaurants and other foodservice locations.

Quarantine fatigue

Consumers are tired of cooking at home, social distancing and adhering to the other restrictive measures put in place because of the pandemic.

“Consumers have quarantine fatigue. We’ve been doing it for 12 months, so they just feel like they need to go out, get a meal and spend money,” he said.

Warmer weather

Consumers that were uncomfortable with indoor dining this past Winter may be open to eating at a restaurant outside now that outdoor temperatures are warming.

“The weather is getting warmer, especially in some of the Northern states. People are out and about more often. It also opens up outdoor dining, which is something that helped the industry when you looked at the Summer months last year,” Pawlak explained.

Stimulus money

There was a big spike in foodservice sales in January 2021 following the mini stimulus of $600.

“Consumers have more money in their pockets from the stimulus dollars that has been distributed,” Pawlak said. The current stimulus checks are larger than the amount given in January, so “it’s also very positive news when you look at consumers spending their discretionary dollars away from home,” he added.

View our continuing coverage of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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