Will COVID-19 turn us into a society of health nuts?

Photo: @titovailona via Twenty20
May 06, 2020
Tom Ryan

The spotlight on health from COVID-19 is expected by some to take the health and wellness movement to another level.

The predictions come as a wide majority of fatalities from COVID-19 were found to have already had underlying health conditions, such as lung, kidney or liver disease, asthma, serious heart conditions, obesity, diabetes and otherwise compromised immune systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s #HealthyAtHome campaign encourages people to look after their mental and physical health through exercise and balanced diets, and medical experts are widely touting the benefits of strong immune systems.

“I believe very few people globally have not thought about their own health almost on a daily basis in the last six to eight weeks,” said Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted on his company’s quarterly conference call last week. “So, the move towards a more health and exercise-oriented global population has been accelerated through Corona, maybe not in the short-term, but definitely in the medium-term and in the long-term.”

Katy Moses, managing director at KAM Media, a U.K.-based grocery consultancy, told Just-Drinks, “Healthy eating wasn’t a trend before — we had already adopted it as part of everyday culture. But I think we are going to become even more aware of what we eat and how we eat it.”

Mindy Grossman, CEO of WW International (formerly Weight Watchers), told Yahoo Finance, “Coming out of this, I do believe that health and wellness is not going to be a luxury going forward.”

So far, not much of the health advice is being followed. More runners can be found on streets, but that may because gyms are closed. The Wall Street Journal last week reported that comfort foods, such as frozen pizza and mac and cheese, are seeing a resurgence as housebound Americans “seek familiarity and convenience.”

In a statement, Carmen Bryan, consumer analyst at GlobalData, said he expects government-endorsed health programs and new and improved nutritious food labeling, to eventually drive a new health craze. He said, “While health consciousness appears to have taken a backseat for some consumers, it is likely to rebound in force.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you expect the pandemic to elevate the health and wellness trend in America? What opportunities do you think will emerge for retailers and consumer-direct brands in this area?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Consumers have a love-hate relationship with healthy eating ... Which trends last depends upon how long this situation lasts and what things are like as everything opens up."
"Unfortunately, any positive changes to eating habits will likely only last as long as the concerns over COVID-19 do."
"There is always the tendency to be shaken into new behavior and then to revert back to the old ways once it’s out of our internal psychic news cycle."

Join the Discussion!

26 Comments on "Will COVID-19 turn us into a society of health nuts?"

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Mark Ryski

COVID-19 has dramatically heightened the awareness of health and safety issues for individuals, companies and governments. As a result of the pandemic, I expect that retailers will completely re-evaluate their health and safety programs, for employees and customers alike. I’d expect to see new, much more comprehensive health protocols, and the largest retailers may also install Chief Health Officers to provide guidance and oversee programs to not only deal with dramatic situations like COVID-19, but to better manage ongoing health and safety related issues.

Neil Saunders

It won’t turn us all into health nuts – there will still be plenty of folks who eat and behave in an unhealthy way – however, more people will pay attention to health after this crisis is over. It will manifest itself in what we buy and consume, the exercise we undertake, and our approaches to mental wellness. Some of this will be an acceleration of existing trends, such as sleep quality or meditation, and some aspects will be newer such as a focus on immune health. The wellness economy will get a boost as a result, but don’t expect things like fast food to necessarily wane in tandem.

Ben Ball

The pandemic will accelerate current health and wellness trends as it has in many other areas, but it isn’t going to change anyone’s fundamental behaviors.

Bob Phibbs

I used to be CMO of a coffee franchise. Every January we would tell franchisees cut your bake order in half the first two weeks and then double it the next week. I would get calls from franchisees “hey we have too much bakery going stale” during the first week of January. I told you. The third week of January “hey we’re running out of bakery.” I told you.

As humans were fairly predictable in wanting to go back to our rituals. While I think wellness will increase, I’m not convinced it’s a change in behavior that has legs.

Jeff Sward

One would hope that this pandemic has some lasting positive impact on our thinking and habits. So it’s disheartening to see the number of people pushing for premature re-opening and who simply don’t want to abide by the rules of social distancing and mask wearing. Higher risk segments of the population will probably incorporate some new, healthier habits into their lifestyles. And some lower risk people will probably continue to believe in their own invincibility. Understanding and embracing risk is viewed through a very personal lens. Some people get it and some people refuse to.

Richard Hernandez

As I mentioned in another post yesterday, there is very much an increase in the awareness of wellness and health. I believe this will be a constant post-pandemic and if you play in that arena, you need to decide how deep you want to go to serve the now aware public. The other thing I have noticed is an increase in the number of commercials on local TV and radio for CBD stores.

Dave Bruno

While I do expect some people to be more aware of their choices, not all will follow their lead. Considering how many virtual happy hours I attend and that baking supplies have completely dominated the list of most popular grocery categories for the past several weeks, I somehow doubt that an army of health nuts will emerge from the pandemic.

Jeff Weidauer

Unfortunately, any positive changes to eating habits will likely only last as long as the concerns over COVID-19 do. Once the perceived danger has passed, clean eating and other health-related activities will revert to the old habits.

Stephen Rector

You can see it in the data that there is a significant rise in health and wellness category purchases online – but of those purchases, are they in response to the panic of COVID-19 (i.e. a run on thermometers) or are they a shift in customer behavior? I don’t think we will be able to judge this until several months from now to see if the increases were just a spike or if the growth will be more permanent.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

On the one hand people have become more health conscious. On the other hand people have consumed more comfort food. Consumers have always had a love-hate relationship with healthy eating as evidenced by the increase in health foods purchased as well as the increase in desserts or sweets. Which trends last depends upon how long this situation lasts and what things are like as everything opens up. The amount of remaining fear and the amount of time available for shopping and food prep will be important determinants of where the trend goes.

Brandon Rael

Health and wellness were already emerging as a major lifestyle shift over the past 10 years. There were segments of the population that already were seeking sustainably-sourced organic foods, healthier options, and less processed meals. However with the element of choice and economic factors, not everyone has the financial means to afford healthier food options.

A positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic for consumers is the fact that there will be increased demands and expectations from consumers around ethical product sourcing, sustainability, and supply chain transparency. The cosmopolitan cities were already reflecting these healthier paradigm shifts, especially in NYC, where we have seen sustainability-first food companies such as Sweetgreen, Bluestone Coffee, and others.

We should consider that the pandemic and possible post-COVID trends are changing by the day, so it’s too soon to see how this will play out.

David Weinand

In short, no. The eating habits of people (especially Americans) have been formed by multiple influences (parents, friends, advertisements, etc.) and while this scare should convince people to take on healthier habits, I don’t see it happening. Most European and Asian country populations already had healthier habits prior to this pandemic so I think that will continue. That said, companies like WW are experiencing some great numbers during this so maybe a percentage of our population will use this as a catalyst to get in shape.

Lisa Goller

While COVID-19 has inspired many of us to jog outside or exercise online, health is tied to wealth.

Massive unemployment, inflationary pressures and slim budgets all threaten lower-income consumers’ food choices. Limited funds and ambiguous work prospects make it hard to invest in healthy meals on a consistent basis. The income gap will continue to widen due the coronavirus crisis, driving consumers to prioritize value over vitality.

Nielsen reports ice cream sales rose 43 percent compared to the same week last April. Comfort foods often provide affordability, time savings and soothing security in the short term, yet they compromise well-being over the long term.

Among consumers who can afford to protect their long-term health, retailers and brands can promote nourishing products, reformulated recipes (with less sugar, salt and fat) and meal kit subscriptions to encourage daily diligence and healthy habits.

Tony Orlando

People will eat what they can afford, and many are struggling to buy the basics. Healthy eating is a lofty goal, and if more folks actually knew how to prepare a simple healthy meal, they would feel better. Snack foods, and sugary beverages are not going away anytime soon, and the consumers will choose what they want. I speak to my customers every day, and show them healthier options that are a good value, and many of them will try it, if it tastes good. With this quarantine some folks actually rediscovered cooking, and are saving lots of money vs. going out to a restaurant. Some of this will continue, as cooking can become a passion.

Andrew Blatherwick
If this virus, with its clear the connection to health and fitness and the mortality rate, doesn’t have a positive effect on people looking after their health then nothing will. It has been widely publicized, in the U.K. at least, that people with obesity issues, diabetes and generally poor health are at higher risk than healthy people. There has been a move to healthier eating for some time but this will undoubtedly accelerate that trend. However, there are some anomalies to that at the moment. People are locked away in their homes and are looking for some comfort eating so as the article states pizza and comfort food sales are also lifting. There is some evidence in the U.K. that people are buying more packaged foods at the moment for fear of contamination from unpacked foods. So it is not that clear at the moment that everyone is eating more healthily, but as time progresses and governments analyze the impact of the health of patients who survived and sadly those that did not I am… Read more »
Dick Seesel

I agree with Camille that many reports suggest rising demand for processed and packaged “comfort food,” including traditional grocery brands whose sales had stagnated for awhile. This may counterbalance the “healthy eating” trend, especially in families with less time to cook full meals for themselves. When you consider the time demands of working from home while helping educate and entertain kids all day, not every dual-income family has the luxury of shopping for fresh, healthy ingredients right now.

Suresh Chaganti

Contracting COVID-19 is not correlated to any underlying health condition. Sure it can be tied to poor hygiene and unclean surroundings, but not unhealthy food habits. We could see more focus on cleaning and sanitization.

I don’t see any discernible shifts in food consumption towards healthy greens, salads, etc. In fact I see the opposite: Flour is flying off the shelves, baking is a favorite pastime — that means people are eating all the carb heavy stuff.

Ian Percy

There is always the tendency to be shaken into new behavior and then to revert back to the old ways once it’s out of our internal psychic news cycle. That is — unless the “shaking” is so severe that it becomes a tipping point, the bridge back is set on fire, etc. Where I hope that happens is in senior living and healthcare facility food services. I’m of the general opinion that facility food and health have little to do with each other. Even airplane food – back when there was such a thing – was often better. Proper, nutritious and uncontaminated food is critical to the immunological strength of seniors particularly.

Ryan Mathews

Health nuts? Not necessarily. Clean freaks? Probably, at least in the short term. COVID-19 isn’t a food problem — unless you eat bats from the Wuhan wet markets — but it definitely has ratcheted up awareness of just how open everyday surfaces are to viruses. If I were a retailer, I’d keep (visibly) wiping down carts and cleaning surfaces when/if this thing is ever over.

Evan Snively

Health and wellness retailers will try to leverage it to their ends the same way baking, restaurant, alcohol, and frozen food brands will to theirs. And in the end, people will remain creatures of habit.

Doug Garnett

In a word, no. If anyone in America was unaware of the value of living a healthy life, they’ve been living in a cave. We have decades of information, awareness, and good reasons to change behavior behind us.

But with COVID-19 there are too many hedges in the data. Many of the underlying conditions aren’t related to healthy living — but age, disease, and other less controllable items.

So there might be a small advantage possible for a smart consumer-direct marketer. But it won’t likely be massive (unless there’s a magic connection discovered between buying a Bowflex and surviving COVID-19, for example).

Ian Percy

In my post, I meant to mention that the phrase “government-endorsed health programs” scares me half to death. As we see pollution standards diminished and poisons that all other countries have banned still being spread on our farm fields, and that even crop irrigation water is usually not something you’d ever want to drink — the idea of putting our health under government thinking and into their hands is unfathomable.

John Karolefski

It depends. Take the folks who are loading up on comfort foods such as pizza, snacks and alcohol during the pandemic — and there are many of them. Will they focus more on health and wellness after the virus is vanquished? No, they won’t. Meanwhile, folks who value health and wellness will eat and drink responsibly during the pandemic. Afterwards, they will become even more of a “health nut”? (A term I personally find offensive, by the way.)

Ralph Jacobson

Time will heal all wounds. If you ask these questions during the pandemic, many will say, “The sky is falling.” Six months or so from now, I do feel we will still be reeling from COVID-19 because of unprecedented worldwide press on the virus. So, I believe that handshakes may indeed become extinct in the longer term. This crisis has really impacted our lives for the foreseeable future.

Craig Sundstrom

Being healthy is its own reward, and I doubt a once-in-century event will motivate too many people to change their lifestyles. One thing that might change has to do with another kind of health: financial … perhaps this experience will emphasize the perils of not having at least a few hundred dollars set aside.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Clearly those that already practice healthy habits will continue. There will some subset of the population that will adopt some lifestyle changes, but I expect most to go migrate back to their status quo over time.

"Consumers have a love-hate relationship with healthy eating ... Which trends last depends upon how long this situation lasts and what things are like as everything opens up."
"Unfortunately, any positive changes to eating habits will likely only last as long as the concerns over COVID-19 do."
"There is always the tendency to be shaken into new behavior and then to revert back to the old ways once it’s out of our internal psychic news cycle."

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