How the pandemic transformed our grocery habits

Instacart’s Essential Insights report revealed more family members are sharing the shopping load while seniors migrate online.

The pandemic changed the way people learn, socialize and work — but it especially shook up the grocery store aisles.

Grocery shopping experienced a major shift in all areas including who is shopping, what we buy and when we buy it, according to Instacart’s latest report, “Beyond The Cart: A Year of Essential Insights,” released Tuesday. Conducted by The Harris Poll, the survey polled 2,038 U.S. adults ages 18 and older from February 2020 to March to analyze their grocery shopping habits on the app.

Here are a few key takeaways.

Who Is Shopping

More family members are pitching in with grocery shopping than pre-pandemic.

Nearly three in four Americans (74%) who were the primary grocery shopper in their household said someone else in their home now also pitches in with shopping duties. But there’s a bit of a generational divide: Gen Z (89%) and Millennials (85%) are also more likely than Gen X (71%) and Boomers (62%) to share grocery shopping duties with someone else in their household.

Mentions of other people in anonymized chats about grocery shopping on Instacart also increased: “parents” was up 6x, “family” up 2x, “wife” up 2x and “helping'' was up by 3x.

Instacart also saw an uptick in seniors using its app and delivery service as they avoided shopping in grocery stores during the pandemic. The number of seniors using Instacart grew by 9% year over year — more than any other age group.

When We Shop

As remote school and work became the norm, more flexible weekdays afforded them the ability to shop midweek. Instacart orders grew by 8% on weekdays in 2020, while orders placed during working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) increased by 32%.

What We Buy

Consumers got into the holiday spirit early in 2020. Nearly half of Americans (49%) said they planned for the holidays earlier last year than in past years.

People also bought more of their holiday goodies online. Searches for “Easter candy” and “plastic Easter eggs” on Instacart grew by 200% and 530%, respectively, year-over-year. “Halloween candy” searches grew by 228% year-over-year and searches for “Christmas,” “Christmas sprinkles” and “Christmas decor” grew by 745%, 236%, and 622% year-over-year, respectively.

Shopping trends indicate that people even picked up new hobbies during the pandemic, including baking, cooking, outdoor grilling and backyard birding. Searches for “bird food” increased 27% year-over-year.

Alcohol sales also skyrocketed as people searched for ways to ease their anxiety and stay entertained. The number one hard liquor in 2020 was gin, which grew in sales by 21% year-over-year. Canned or pre-mixed cocktail sales grew by 127%, while sales of speciality beers and spiked seltzers grew by 96% and 131%, respectively.

The Future

While some of these trends will die down, others will stick around post-pandemic.

Seniors are expected to continue shopping online even as vaccines roll out. Instacart’s Senior Support Service, which helps customers over 60 adjust to online shopping, is growing by an estimated 1,000 customers daily.

Grocery shopping times have also been permanently altered, as many people head back to a hybrid work schedule. Early 2021 data shows that although some consumers have returned to weekend grocery shopping, others have stuck to their new midweek routine.

Instacart also predicts that people will continue to pursue their quarantine hobbies after the virus is behind us.

“While home baking, outdoor grilling and backyard birding probably won’t replace restaurants and traveling as the world continues to open up, many hobbyists have spent their time at home perfecting new skills that they’ll keep with them for the rest of their lives,” said Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s trends expert, in a statement. “We won’t be surprised to see sustained interest in baking, home cooking and outdoor-related purchases post-pandemic.”


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