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Food Preferences during COVID-19 Lockdown
Changes in consumers' total food consumption reflect individual food preference during the COVID-19 lockdown. In addition, changes in consumers’ food expenditure represent consumers' behavioral preference. Furthermore, trends in shopping behaviors towards food products with sustainable attributes also reflect food preferences during the lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to global food security, and it changes consumers’ food buying and consumption behavior. This research not only investigates trends in Spanish consumers’ general food shopping and consumption habits during the lockdown, but also investigates these trends from the perspective of sustainable purchasing. Specifically, total food consumption (C), food expenditure (E), and purchase of food with sustainable attributes (S) were measured. Data were collected from a semi-structured questionnaire which was distributed online among 1203 participants. The logit models showed that gender, age, employment status, and consumers’ experiences were associated with total food consumption and expenditure during the lockdown. In addition, consumers’ risk perceptions, shopping places, trust level in information sources, and risk preference were highly essential factors influencing consumers’ preferences and sustainable behavior. Consumers’ objective knowledge regarding COVID-19 was related to expenditure. Furthermore, family structure only affected expenditure, while income and place of residence influenced food consumption. Mood was associated with expenditure and the purchase of sustainable food. Household size affected purchasing behavior towards food with sustainable attributes.
3. Changes in Total Food Consumption (C) during the Lockdown
4. Changes in Total Food Expenditure (E) during the Lockdown
5. Changes in Purchasing Food with Sustainable Attributes (S) during the Lockdown
The result showed that households with 5 members were 2.551 times more likely to purchase more food with sustainable attributes than those with 1 member when compared with the situation before the lockdown. This is supported by a study which indicated that consumers living in larger households were more likely to purchase organic food products . In addition, risk-averse consumers were less likely to increase their purchases of food with sustainable attributes during the lockdown. This outcome converges with the finding that risk-averse respondents avoided buying more sustainable food during the lockdown in China . It may relate to the uncertainty consumers feel when uncertain about food with sustainable attributes (e.g., whether organic certification can be trusted); they may therefore prefer the certainty of conventional products to the uncertainty that may come from sustainable ones . The results also indicated that people who used to purchase food from specialized food stores (before the lockdown) were less likely to buy more food with sustainable attributes than those who usually went to supermarkets. Similar to the previous explanation, one possible reason was that specialized food stores only have food, while supermarkets have a more complete variety (e.g., food, alcohol, toilet paper, and pet supplies). As a consequence, consumers who used to purchase food from specialized food stores may be inclined to buy food (including food with sustainable attributes) and other necessities from the supermarkets during the lockdown to minimize trips to the store and reduce the risk of infection. Additionally, consumers with a positive mood (reassured) were more likely to purchase more food with sustainable attributes while those with a negative mood (angry) were less likely. One possible explanation was that positive emotions make consumers perceive sustainable food (e.g., organic food) as more attractive, and they are eager to purchase and consume healthy food .
According to the results, consumers with a higher trust level in government were more likely to increase their purchasing of food with sustainable attributes. This is supported by a study indicating that in public health emergencies, people who have high trust in government health agencies were more likely to follow health recommendations (including food choice recommendations) made by the government , and they regard sustainable food (e.g., organic food) as healthier food. Thus, they are more likely to purchase more food with sustainable attributes. The results also implied that consumers with higher risk perceptions of COVID-19 and food security were more likely to buy more food with sustainable attributes. Similarly, consumers in Spain perceived these products were healthier than conventional ones , which contributes to improving their immunity and reducing the risk of infection. The results also demonstrated that respondents who perceived a higher financial risk were less likely to purchase more food products with sustainable attributes when compared with the situation before the lockdown. Not surprisingly, food products with sustainable attributes were more expensive than conventional food . Consumers tended to buy less sustainable food (expensive) when they perceived a higher financial risk, and they would spend money more carefully during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of food security risk perception and financial risk perception are similar to the previous research conducted in China , but we did not find the effects of gender and age on the purchases of food with sustainable attributes in this research.
6. Practical Implications
Firstly, based on the result of the increased expenditure on the retailers’ websites, retailers should design a more visually attractive and convenient website, taking advantage of this opportunity to retain customers. Secondly, the Spanish government should make efforts to design more effective information to communicate with people and should enhance the quality and level of detail of the information that they share in such an emergency. This is because consumers reported low trust in government and news while reporting high trust in health professions and scientists, inspiring health professions and scientists to share more reliable and trustworthy information about COVID-19 and recommendations of food choices and consumption. Thirdly, households with children aged 7–12 years were more likely to increase food expenditure. As a result, retailers could carry out promotion activities (e.g., children’s related food can be given as a gift if consumers spend a certain amount of money in the store), so as to attract families with children. Finally, consumers who live with large households and those who often go to the supermarket to buy food were more likely to purchase more food with sustainable attributes, reminding retailers to focus on these people by using this argument to first place and highlight sustainable items (e.g., organic items) in hotlines on the shelves.
The entry is from 10.3390/foods10081898
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