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Along with higher prices, consumers say they’re still experiencing shortages for certain grocery items, C+R Research reported.

Among U.S. grocery shoppers, 85% say COVID-19 hitting them in pocketbook

More than half report spending $100 or more weekly, C+R Research finds

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, 85% of Americans say they’re paying more for groceries, and 75% report shelling out more money for household goods and services, according to a survey by C+R Research.

In a poll of 2,040 U.S. consumers, Chicago-based C+R Research found that shoppers are spending an average of $139 per week on groceries during the coronavirus pandemic. More than half (51%) said they’re spending $100 or more each week, with 28% laying out $150 or more. The largest percentage of respondents (44%) are spending $75 to $149 weekly.

On the food side, 68% of those surveyed reported paying more for meat, followed by eggs (48%), milk (48%), fish (45%), fruit (37%), rice (30%), cheese (29%) and poultry (28%). Nonfood and household items that are snaring more consumer dollars include cleaning supplies (cited by 59% of respondents), paper products like bathroom tissue (39%), personal care and cosmetics (33%), apparel (26%), pet supplies (21%), and health care and prescriptions (18%).

“If you’ve noticed higher prices at the checkout aisle since COVID-19, you’re not alone. Americans across the country have been paying more for staples such as meat, eggs and poultry as well as everyday household goods,” C+R Research said in its report. “Grocery prices skyrocketed beginning in March and still haven’t fallen to pre-pandemic levels.”

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Meat heads the list of groceries experiencing price hikes amid the COVID-19 crisis. Citing data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), C+R said beef prices are up 10.3% from February, followed by poultry (+6.3%), eggs (+5.9%), water and soft drinks (+5.3%) and pork (+5%). Among nonfood items, BEA data shows prices up 8.9% for paper goods, 6% for appliances, 5.8% for flowers and potted plants, 5.4% for cleaning products and 3.6% for miscellaneous household products since February.

“Along with higher prices, consumers say they’re still experiencing shortages for certain items,” C+R noted. “For products they normally purchase, most (83%) say they are still having difficulty finding groceries, and over three-quarters (78%) are still having trouble finding household goods.”

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Increased grocery spending has led consumers to clamp down and find ways to stretch their food dollars farther, according to C+R. Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they’ve cut back on their food budget in the wake of the the coronavirus outbreak.

And among changes in grocery shopping behavior, 43% of consumers report eating less meat, while 38% said they’re seeking more discounts. Other behavioral changes include eating less poultry (33%), avoiding organic items (31%), buying in bulk (30%), meal preparation (28%) and shopping around (26%).

Looking ahead, 88% of C+R survey respondents expressed concern that groceries will continue to become more expensive, and 85% worry that grocery shortages will persist. And as Congress and the Trump administration continue to negotiate over more pandemic economic relief, 68% of those polled by C+R said they would spend most of a second stimulus check on food and groceries, if a check is issued.

“When will these higher prices return to pre-pandemic levels? While no one has a crystal ball, nearly a quarter of consumers are hopeful they will see some relief at the checkout counter by spring 2021, but just about the same proportion aren’t sure,” according to C+R’s report. 

Nineteen percent expect prices to return to pre-pandemic levels in summer 2021, while 16% expect that scenario this winter. Ten percent think prices will right-size when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and only 5% believe prices will return to normal this fall or next winter, respectively.

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Many consumers also worry about a second wave of COVID-19, C+R found in its research. In that event, 87% are concerned there would be more grocery shortages, and 86% would expect food price hikes. Although just 31% think they’ve stocked up enough food for two weeks or less, 67% believe they have enough food on hand if a shortage occurs.

“With so much uncertainty regarding COVID-19, it’s no wonder that seven in 10 consumers say they’ve been ‘stress eating’ since the pandemic,” C+R observed, adding that 65% report changing their diet amid the pandemic.

One point of certainty, though, is a different grocery shopping experience. Among respondents, 75% indicated feeling uncomfortable when shopping at a grocery store, and 46% said they won’t shop at a store with no face mask policy. Also, 69% of those polled used online grocery delivery or pickup for the first time during the pandemic. Going forward, 77% think grocery shopping won’t be the same since COVID-19.

“While it’s too early to tell exactly what the future holds for consumers, it’s clear that shopping habits and budgets have already changed. But will these changes become permanent? According to consumers, about three-quarters believe grocery shopping will change permanently in some form post-pandemic,” C+R said in its report. “As the pandemic continues, perhaps consumers will become more comfortable with changes such as grocery delivery and pickup or contactless payments at the checkout. Whether these changes alter shopping forever remains to be seen, but it is clear consumers are prepared to adapt and navigate their way through the pandemic and beyond.”

For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.

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