The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the largest socioeconomic and health crises the world has seen. As a result of this, almost every sector and individual has been affected - from causing professional disruptions and lifestyle changes to inducing a new wave of health consciousness. With work from home turning out to be the new normal, eating habits have also transformed for the good.
Rooting for homemade food
The lockdowns during the pandemic induced a new widespread trend - gradual transition from the restaurant-eating culture towards the more healthy ‘ghar ka khana’. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram were inundated with pictures and videos of novice chefs, especially the younger population, trying their hands at new recipes.
In addition to people cooking their own homemade food, there are multiple new avenues to receive home-styled food from outside. From the community kitchens operating across India to Delhi Gurdwaras sending across their ‘Langar Sewa’ to COVID-19 affected families, clearly home-cooked or home-style food is in high demand during this pandemic period.
Cooking and baking at home became an everyday activity and there was a spike in demand for organic, plant-based, vegan and vegetarian foods. Ali Webster, Director of Research and Nutrition Communications at International Food Information Council (IFIC), highlighted this trend as obtained from a food and health survey they conducted in 2020.
“A higher percentage of people said that they were eating healthier than they usually do as a result of the pandemic”, Webster said at a virtual press conference.
Also, according to the survey, there was a growing preference for home cooked food instead of exotic and spicy dishes.
Webster added, “I think people grabbed onto the opportunity and thought about what they were eating. And, for obvious reasons, cooking at home proved to be more nourishing than eating out."
Why the skepticism?
Due to the increasing level of awareness, consumers have also become conscious of food safety and origins. The study done by IFIC showcases this. Around 67 percent of the surveyed consumers were confident about the safety of food systems. Food system here implies the whole range of activities right from the production, processing, transport to the eventual consumption of the food.
However, while there was enough confidence among some of the respondents, there was a bit of skepticism as well. Some of the respondents were worried about the possible contamination of the dishes during handling and preparation. About half of these negative responses were worried customers who avoided consuming any kind of food prepared out of their homes.
Stepping up through innovations
This skepticism was also one of the reasons for the decline in online orders through food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy in the initial phases of the pandemic. However, both these platforms quickly managed to get back their loyal customers through certain innovations.
In April 2021, Zomato rolled out a new feature - ‘Priority delivery for COVID emergencies’. When checking-out of the Zomato app, users were given an option to mark their orders as a COVID-19 emergency, so that restaurants could deliver the order on priority.
Deepinder Goyal, the Founder of Zomato, says, “At Zomato, we will prioritise these orders by providing fastest rider assignment, and dedicated customer support in case of queries. Thousands of restaurants have pledged to place these orders on the top of their list.”
Swiggy on the other hand has been ensuring that orders reach customers safely by introducing a deep learning algorithm to make certain that the delivery partners are following the required safety guidelines. They tweaked the app feature in such a way that the only way a delivery partner could log in to the system and start receiving orders was by clicking a real time selfie (which should be in line with the guidelines set by the algorithm) and posting it.
Another innovation that came about was in the space of animal-free diets. This in turn contributed to a rise in the development of new products by plant protein firms like Oziva and Nutrilite. All the major products from these firms are organic plant protein powders, which are free of cholesterol and trans-fats (a form of unsaturated fats), both of which are considered bad for an individual’s heart health.
In a statement, OZiva co-founder Aarti Gill, gives the prime intention behind launching OZiva.
Gill says, “The company was launched to enable people to lead a healthier, fitter, and better life, with clean, plant-based nutrition.”
A nutritionist’s take on people’s food habits since COVID-19
Dhanush Gowda, a nutritionist based in Hyderabad, has witnessed some encouraging changes in people’s eating habits.
“There is a visible positive behavioural change in the nutritional habits of individuals globally, especially the urbanites, who earlier would consume more processed fat foods and eat out. Besides, since most of them are staying at home and working remotely, hygiene, healthy eating and home-workouts have picked up,” he says.
In addition, he has also observed new trends in behaviour. “People are shifting more to digital platforms for their day to day needs. People are moving to value-based purchasing and online shopping”, he adds.
Has the pandemic made people more flexible?
COVID-19 led to huge interruptions in food supply chains as well as consumer habits across the world. And, the food and beverage industry made significant efforts to adapt to them, including ensuring adherence to all the food protection and supply protocols laid out by organization’s like the World Health Organization (WHO) and United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The 2021 Global Food Policy Report, released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), states that the pandemic gave food systems around the globe an opportunity to rethink and innovate. The report lists the lessons learnt from the ongoing crisis as well as the steps that can be taken to prepare better for future shocks and inequalities.
The road ahead
This pandemic has shown people that being healthy is not just an option, but a compulsion.
“There is a rising interest in health and wellness. A lot of people are actively looking for ways to maintain their health. Some of them are of course my clients and friends. I hope they remain cautious about food choices even when the world gets back to normal”, Gowda notes.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about the changes in food habits since the COVID-19 pandemic -