Almost two-years removed from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, shelf-stable grocery still is not showing any signs of recovery.
Last year, Supermarket News reported in its shelf-stable category report that nearly all the top grocery subcategories showed a decline in sales for the 52 weeks ending April 17, 2022, including some that fell by double digits after an overall strong performance during the first year of the pandemic.
More shoppers were opting for convenience in the form of grab and go and meal kits. The craving to hit restaurants following the constraints of COVID also contributed to the widespread downturn for shelf-stable last year, according to reporting by SN.
This year, only three subcategories finished even or barely in the positive when looking at multi-outlet and grocery units sales year-over-year, according to data from Circana.
Mexican foods showed a 0.7% increase when compared to this time in 2022 for multi-outlet unit sales, but suffered a 2.2% drop in grocery unit sales year-over-year. Spaghetti/Italian sauce was up 0.1% within multi-outlet, but was down 2.1% within grocery. Mayonnaise, meanwhile, finished flat (0%) for multi-outlet and was down 2.5% with grocery for unit sales year-over-year.
“Consumers have settled into their patterns,” said Jonna Parker, principal, Fresh Foods Team Lead at Circana. “So what they are looking for and the types of food they are buying more often is what they bought years ago … not last month or last year.
“I think it’s going to be very tough, especially in center store categories,” Parker added. “[Retailers] are going back to their pre-COVID merchandising and promotion playbook.”
The change is confusing. Even though shoppers are buying more prepared meals in an effort to save time and eat more at home, the approach has not translated into the dinner subcategory for shelf-stable. Dinners have been the biggest loser year-over-year in terms of units sold — their unit sales dropped 10.3% for multi-outlet and 13.9% for grocery. No other subcategory performed worse.
Shelf-stable vegetables (-5.4% multi-outlet, -8.8% grocery in unit sales year-over-year) and meat (-5.7% multi-outlet, -9.1% grocery) also were among the slower-selling subcategories this year.
“Despite food-out-of-home prices increasing faster than food-at-home prices, we are seeing that consumers are enjoying being able to eat out at restaurants and are no longer cooking all three meals at home,” said Charlotte Meyer, interim co-lead, Merchandising, at FreshDirect. “This has created some pressure in some of the ‘ingredient’ categories like baking ingredients and pasta/sauce.”