Throughout 2019, pre-packed potatoes lost out to loose potatoes as consumer concerns around plastic rose. However, as the coronavirus pandemic hit, this reversed, according to a report by Rebecca Gladman, Retail Insight Manager at AHDB. She reports that pre-packed potatoes’ share of volume reached 94.4% in the 12 w/e 21 Feb 2021 – an increase pof 1.6 percentage points on 2020 and the highest level it’s been at for around five years (Kantar).
This mirrors a trend seen across fresh produce, with data from Kantar showing that over 20,000 tonnes of loose produce switched into pre-packed produce in the 12 w/e 21 Feb 2021.
This growth in pre-packed produce contrasts with British shoppers’ overriding concerns about the environment. 84% of British shoppers say they are concerned about plastic usage in product packaging (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker, Feb 2021). When asked what actions they already do to help the environment, 44% said they already buy loose food and a further 22% said they would be willing to (AHDB research conducted by Blue Marble, Sep 2020). And in a Mintel survey conducted prior to the pandemic in Feb 2020, 78% agreed that more fruit and vegetables should be available to purchase loose at supermarkets (Mintel Food Packaging Trends – UK, April 2020).
So why the contradictory trend in sales?
Temporary shift of focus to hygiene
Concerns around plastics had been growing prior to the pandemic, however once COVID-19 hit that understandably became the biggest area of concern for consumers in 2020. In a Harris Interactive survey conducted in autumn 2020, almost three-in-ten shoppers admitted to feeling less comfortable buying loose groceries compared with before the pandemic (11% felt more comfortable). Safety concerns also led to more online shopping and online volume sales of potatoes rose 85% in the 52 w/e 21 Feb 2021. This will have benefitted pre-packed potatoes, which are more likely to be chosen when shopping online than in-store.
The need to buy more
Kantar Usage data suggests that there have been an extra seven billion meals at home since spring 2020. This has been mainly caused by lockdown restrictions and temporary closures of the hospitality industry. As there’s been a need to cook more meals at home, there is evidence that shoppers have been taking this into account and buying bigger packs of potatoes. Packs weighing between 1kg and 2.5kg have had the biggest gain in share of volume, with sacks weighing more than 5kg also gaining. Conversely, smaller packs weighing up to 1kg have lost share, regressing on the gains made throughout 2018/19.
Loose potatoes are also likely to be adversely affected by this need to buy more; when shoppers buy loose potatoes, they tend to buy 1kg, whereas the volume per trip for pre-packed potatoes is 2kg.
Growing price concerns
More than two in five British shoppers say they have become more price conscious since before the pandemic (AHDB/YouGov Consumer Tracker, Feb 2021). In 2020, the average price paid for pre-packed potatoes was 18% lower than that paid for loose potatoes, potentially making them a more suitable option for those price-conscious shoppers. Up until summer 2020, the price differential between pre-packed and loose potatoes had been narrowing but has since widened again.
Future expectations for this trend
- In the short-term, packaging delivering on food safety, hygiene and convenience will remain important and could therefore benefit pre-packed potatoes going forward.
- In the longer-term, shopper desire for reduced plastic packaging will return to focus. Packaging innovation for pre-packed potatoes will be important, as will on-pack claims about environmentally friendly packaging. Such claims are a growing trend and were found on 49% of new product launches in the food sector in the year ending May 2020 (Mintel Brand Overview: Food – UK, May 2020).
- Heightened consumer price focus could pose a challenge for loose potatoes. With loose potatoes previously gaining a share of sales when the average price differential to pre-pack narrowed, a return to this price trend could boost sales (once safety concerns have eased).