Economy

From Dalgona coffee to cake and cookies, people are turning to comfort food during lockdown

Key Points
  • According to a survey by FMCG Gurus, a research firm for fast-moving consumer goods, half of the 23,000 consumers surveyed in 18 countries said they snacked more in May — up from 38% in April. 
  • In China and Southeast Asia, lockdowns resulted in the "snackification" of meals, said Ai Palette, a food technology startup in its analysis of local language chats online from January to April.
  • The Dalgona coffee trend reflects a rise in price conscious consumers who are trading down for cheaper products — like instant coffee used to make the beverage, said Fitch Solutions.
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Cooped up at home during the pandemic, consumers have been taking to their favorite comfort food, boosting sales of products like instant coffee, biscuits and chocolates — but economic realities could soon hit their pockets.

According to a survey by FMCG Gurus, a research firm for fast-moving consumer goods, half of the 23,000 consumers surveyed in 18 countries said they snacked more in May — up from 38% in April. About 60% of those surveyed said they bought more comfort food, including confectionery.

"When it comes to snacking more frequently, the need for escapism from the pressures of daily life is a main reason for doing so," FMCG Gurus said in their report of the survey.

Globally, reports and data show that more and more people are turning to snacks as they spend more time at home during lockdowns.

"We've been interviewing consumers around the world and we can say that it's clear there is increased snacking," Dirk Van de Put, CEO at food giant Mondelez, said during the company's first quarter results briefing in late April.

Snacking at night and other non-regular times of the day spiked as consumers struggled to stick to their usual daily routines while spending all their time at home.
Somsubhra GanChoudhuri
co-founder and CEO of Ai Palette

"They are looking for that moment of comfort offered by biscuits and chocolate in today's stressful circumstances," he said, adding that there was "strong momentum" in those categories.

Snacking with family members also "brings back a feeling of normalcy of togetherness calming everybody down" he added, according to a transcript.

'Snackification' in Asia

Data focused on Asian regions showed similar patterns.

In China and Southeast Asia, lockdowns resulted in the "snackification" of meals, according to Ai Palette, a food technology startup that analysed local language chats online from January to April.

"Snacking at night and other non-regular times of the day spiked as consumers struggled to stick to their usual daily routines while spending all their time at home," said Somsubhra GanChoudhuri, co-founder and CEO of Ai Palette.

Data from Ai Palette found that China's consumer demand for cake spiked 66% year-on-year from January to April, while ice cream saw a 51% on-year jump in that same period. Some of these were made at home, if people could not head out to buy them.

Cookies and cakes were the most popular items in Indonesia, while crackers ruled in the Philippines. Cookies and chips flew off the shelves in Thailand.

Dalgona craze

In some ways, dalgona coffee epitomizes the phenomenon of home-made comfort food during rampant lockdowns around the globe.

The whipped coffee recipe — made by mixing instant coffee, sugar, and hot water, and whisking them into a thick, frothy cream that's topped over milk — took social media by storm.

The beverage was made popular by a South Korean actor, and has since spread to the rest of the world as people turned to making their own food and drinks while stuck at home.

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The backstory of dalgona coffee

Fitch Solutions said the Dalgona coffee trend also reflects a rise in price conscious consumers who are trading down for cheaper products — like instant coffee.

"Lockdowns across the world, are leading to a rise in unemployment, hiring freezes, wage freeze/cuts and employees on furlough, which will all feed into lower disposable incomes for the average consumer," the consultancy said in a May report.

"The effect of lower disposable incomes and uncertain employment outlooks will translate into consumers substituting their existing consumption choices for cheaper alternatives," said Fitch Solutions.

Consumer trends

Fitch Solutions predicts a wider trend of people buying cheaper products across the food and drink, tea and meat segments.

During the outbreak in China, price concerns about food increased by 66% — driven by fears of a recession and because some items were pricier, according to Ai Palette.

For Thai consumers, the price of food emerged as an important consumer consideration when the pandemic started worsening in February and March. 

Demand for gourmet food products has also been hit. 

Swiss chocolate giant Barry Callebaut that its gourmet sales volumes were being impacted by movement restrictions and access to shops and restaurants, according to a report from IHS Markit in April.

Economic downturns in many parts of world are also weighing on such premium food, sending global demand for products like wagyu beef, bluefin tuna and caviar plunging, Reuters reported in June.