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Consumer buying behaviour in organised trade saw shifts from pre- lockdown period to successive lockdown stages . 

According to research firm Nielsen India, the FMCG Industry increased sales in the weeks prior to the lockdown announcement across organised retail & organised wholesale channels. 

“This can be attributed to stockpiling and as we entered the lockdown phase, we saw a steep decline in sales across channels. This was caused by mobility restrictions and supply side challenges,” said Sameer Shukla West Market Leader, South Asia, Nielsen Global Connect to speak.

Modern Trade sales continued to slow down as we moved from phase I to phase II of the lockdown. Cash and Carry and E-Commerce channels, on the other hand, were severely impacted in lockdown I and showed some signs of recovery in Lockdown II.

“As we moved into the lockdown phases, growth especially in the Non-Foods segment started shrinking, as constituent categories were classified non-essentials or they were low on consumers’ priority,” Shukla said.

Within Non-Foods, slowdown was witnessed across Home Care and Personal Care categories. 

Only Evolved hygiene categories consisting of hand wash, hand sanitizer & floor cleaners continued to grow in lockdown phase and remained flat in lockdown phase II on account of heightened focus around health and hygiene.

The Foods basket of Modern Trade shoppers witnessed pantry loading of staples and convenience food items in the pre lockdown phase. 

However as the country moved into the lockdown period, the focus was reduced on staples; convenience categories, however, continued to grow.

Slowdown in Fresh Produce

Another interesting trend that emerged was the sales of non-vegetarian food on modern trade platform slowdown during the lockdown as consumers preferred vegetarian over non-veg food.

In a Nielsen consumer study (10th to 14th April 2020) among 1330 respondents across 23 cities, more than half of the respondents said they will be avoiding non-veg food as a precautionary measure. This percentage was still high at 37 percent in the March (17-19) round of the study. 

Forty percent of respondents in the April round stated they would buy less of meat and fish.

Emerging Themes

Nielsen Scan Track services deciphered two significant trends among food categories in the Modern Trade banners sales.

Selling Price of Food Increased Substantially—Average prices for key foods categories witnessed an increase in the lockdown phase. This was caused by retailer led promotions slowing down, and change in brand and pack mixes.

Second trend which emerged was private label brands are picking up-Contribution of Private label brands increased across many categories in the lockdown phases as retailers leveraged on their private labels to fill in the void in consumer demand emerging out of supply chain issues. 

The value share of private label brands increased by 5-6 percentage points during lockdown as compared to the pre COVID period of Dec-Jan-Feb period.

Indian Citizens (77%) across all key metros believed that spread of COVID-19 in their city/ state will come under control in next three months, however, only 30 percent are completely prepared for the crisis, financially. 

This further drops to 17 percent tamong low income groups (having household income less than INR 50,000), Nielsen India said.

Way Ahead 

As the time passes and restriction on living conditions in India eases out, some behaviours will not return to previous states or habits, said Prasun Basu, South Asia Zone President, Nielsen Global Connect. 

Many behaviours are likely to be rebalanced as the new norm for consumers as their circumstances have been irrevocably impacted, he said.

Basu also pointed out that on the basis of the social and financial impact, two types of consumer are expected to emerge

Insulated consumers ​are more likely to continue their lifestyle choices as before COVID-19. 

As horizons expand though – there will be a cautiousness to their spend that “will they be next?”.  So, an increased focus on savings/delay of major expenditure and cutting back on discretionary spend on categories such as clothing and transport will be more conservative.

Constrained spenders ​will be immediately looking at the bottom line on how they can make savings in their everyday life given new financial restrictions.

Businesses will need to carefully (re)consider and plan for how to solve and adapt to the future conditions through the new unfolding lenses, Basu said.

Brands which ‘pivot’ or reposition themselves based on renewed purpose will be likely to reap benefits, as they demonstrate empathy and continued caring for consumers.

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Consumers preferred vegetarian food during lockdown: Nielsen India
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