Covid-19 could have positive impact on food in France

The Covid-19 crisis in France could have a positive impact on the nation’s eating and cooking habits long-term, analysts have said - as sales of local and organic rise, and home cooks become more creative.

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Supermarket analysis firm IRI, which has been studying the food shopping habits of the population during the coronavirus crisis, said that the initial panic buying would give way to a greater focus on quality.

It said: “An obsession with quality will once again take over from the [initial] temporary fear of scarcity, and the search for local products, a trend that was already strong before the crisis, will be strengthened by the search for great food self-sufficiency.”

Threat to perishable items?

The initial impact of confinement appeared rather negative, as shoppers rushed to stock up on goods, and fears grew for the supply chain.

IRI said that the day before confinement was announced on March 17 (so on Monday March 16), supermarkets saw a 237% rise in sales, especially among long-lasting items and store cupboard food such as pasta, rice, and tins.

Disruption to and anticipated problems with the logistics and transport distribution sector meant fears grew for perishable items such as seasonal fruits and vegetables - such as strawberries and asparagus, especially those sold in food markets, which would later largely be closed.

There were also fears for AOP cheeses; and the 600,000 Spring lambs for Easter, of which estimates suggested just one in six would be sold.

Similarly, farming union la Confédération Paysanne said that the closure of restaurants had contributed to an estimated surplus of 40 million litres of milk by the end of March.

More vegetables and...frozen food

Yet, the French public has not rejected fresh produce entirely.

More than two in five (43%) of the French public said they had bought more fruit and vegetables since the beginning of confinement, said an online nationally-representative survey of 1,000 French adults by pollsters YouGov, for newspaper l’Obs.

But in the same survey, almost a quarter (23%) said that they had bought more frozen food, especially meat.

A study by consumer insight researchers Nielsen appears to confirm this, with business in the sector booming from less than 3% at the end of February, to 76% by the end of March.

Newspaper l’Obs suggested that this mix of fresh and frozen is “not as paradoxical” as it may first appear, as it represents a desire to stay healthy during the crisis, but also to keep food for longer during an uncertain time.

More home cooking

Confinement has sparked a new trend in home cooking, with the same YouGov survey finding that 61% had been cooking at home during the crisis.

Consumers have been forced to be creative, due to a lack of certain ingredients.

Some items have been more difficult to find than others; 63% said they had consistently struggled to find flour, with Nielsen confirming that demand for flour and baking items had grown by 159%. Eggs have also been reportedly in short supply.

As a result, there has been a rise in products such as the cornflour Maïzena (up 123%), which is often used as a thickener in sauces instead of wheat flour.

On social media, consumers have been sharing recipes using alternative ingredients.

One inventive Instagram user reported good results for an eggless chocolate mousse, replacing whisked egg white with the liquid from canned chickpeas (“pois chiches”, below).

More sugar, but also more organic

Uncertain times mean the demand for sugar and comfort food is high, with products such as honey and chocolate spread even more popular than usual.

Yet, alongside this, organic brands have also seen a spike in sales, both in supermarkets and in specialist shops such as Biocoop, Naturalia, La Vie Claire, and Bio C’bon, with consumers appearing happy to spend more on their food.

Alexandre Fantuz, marketing director of organic food marketing company Biotopia, said: “The value of the average shopping basket has risen by 48%, going from €40 to €59 since mid-March.”

Organic produce sales have risen by 63% across the sector, including in hypermarkets, supermarkets, and convenience stores, said Nielsen. Nielsen analyst, Antoine Lecoq, explained that this could be due to a number of factors.

He said: “Firstly, these products are seen as more natural, and are especially sought out during uncertain times, or when globalised [processed] foods are coming under fire from critics.”

Organic products are also likely to sell out less quickly. Mr Lecoq said: “When the shelves are empty, there is more chance of being able to find organic food in the aisles.”

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