U.S. consumers spent more time in the grocery store in July than they have since March 2020, Chicago-based market researcher IRI reported, as grocery shoppers made nearly 9 in 10 of their purchases in-store vs. online.
The average grocery trip was 32.3 minutes, a pandemic high, according to IRI and 210 Analytics' monthly grocery sales report. Eighty-seven percent of grocery-shopping occasions were in-store as consumers remained confident in being out and about and continuing to resume their pre-pandemic activities and behaviors. The share of meals consumed at home dropped to 76.6% in July from 82% a year ago.
Notably, IRI's July data covers the four weeks ending July 25—two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to recommend that all individuals over age 2, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in indoor public settings in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. The last week of July, as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the rapid spread of the delta variant surged across the country, Walmart announced a vaccine mandate for corporate staff and the return of mask requirements for associates in areas of high COVID spread. Starbucks and McDonald's (with both updated mask requirements and, this week, a corporate vaccine mandate) have followed suit in updating their COVID guidance for stores and customers.
Whether and how the latest surge in the pandemic and companies' response to it affects consumer behavior, especially as families begin a new school year, remains to be seen.
"In the past few months, the normalization of shopping patterns, including a return to in-store shopping, spending more time in-store, as well as a return to on-premise restaurant dining, has been driven by vaccinated Americans," 210 Analytics President Anne-Marie Roerink wrote in the report. "The August sales and survey results relative to retail and foodservice sales will interesting to watch as we close out the summer."
Consumers Brought Home the Bacon in July
While several grocery categories continued to struggle in July to match elevated year-ago sales, bacon and packaged lunch meats saw their year-over-year sales edge up. Dollar sales for bacon were up 1% vs. July 2020 and nearly 21% vs. two years ago, while lunchmeat sales rose 0.8% year over year and were up 7% vs. July 2019. Ground chicken and ground pork similarly saw one-year and two-year gains.
Overall, fresh beef, fresh chicken, fresh pork and fresh turkey saw dollar sales slide relative to July 2020, although sales for all are up by double-digit percentages vs. July 2019. (Retail prices for these, meanwhile, edged up for a seventh straight month, according to Aug. 11's consumer price index report for July.)
After significant gains in the first quarter, sales of plant-based meat alternatives slipped in July vs. a year ago, and more meat alternatives were sold on promotion—37.3%, by dollar sales, last month vs. 30.3% in July 2020. Price per pound fell too as plant-based suppliers have worked to bring their prices more in line with traditional meat providers and special promotions encouraged trial of the ever-growing array of plant-based alternatives.
In the produce section, fresh fruit continued to deliver gains, with dollar sales climbing 1.2% vs. July 2020—helped in part by price inflation—while vegetable sales slid 5.4% year over year. Dollar sales for both were up around 11% vs. July 2019. Packaged salads, berries, Mandarin oranges and mixed fruits were top performers within fresh produce.
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