WMU researchers study food consumption behaviors during COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Ann Veeck, professor and acting chair in the Department of Marketing, and Dr. Hu Xie, assistant professor of marketing, conducted a survey in China from Feb. 15 to Feb. 23, as the COVID-19 virus was rapidly spreading in several regions. With government guidance that people should leave their homes as little as possible, Veeck and Xie, who was the lead researcher on the project, examined food shopping, preparation and consumption behavior, and the coping mechanisms people use during a widespread, deadly epidemic.

Initial findings

Pictured is Dr. Ann Veeck

  • People increased online ordering and delivery of food, with some respondents reporting that they ordered food online for the first time.
  • Preferred sources for online delivery of food included a combination of local, national and international providers. Some respondents reported that the largest online retailers had shortages of important products. Some local entrepreneurs filled those gaps. 
  • People who continued leaving their homes to buy food and household products often increased time between trips and bought large orders of food at one time. 
  • 58.6% of households reported stocking up on food and beverages. Frequently noted choices were rice, flour, instant noodles, frozen dumplings and bottled water. 
  • Many people reported increasing the healthiness of their diet to increase immunity. Interestingly, people who perceived that they had control over their health claimed to be increasing their consumption of healthy foods, while people who felt health is largely due to luck reported increasing the consumption of junk food, snacks and alcohol. 

Implications

  • The types of goods that are in demand are largely predictable—pasta, canned and frozen foods, cleaning products and paper goods. Manufacturers should have plans in place to increase production and supply of these goods in emergencies.
  • Retailers should rearrange their stores to allow people to quickly select the goods that are most in demand and then pay and leave quickly to decrease human contact. Pictured is Dr. Hu Xie
  • Retailers, both local and international, should be prepared to create and communicate the availability of flexible delivery systems that can accommodate dynamic local situations.  

“With pandemics like this one, there are severe health, economic and social consequences,” says Veeck. “Many experts believe that similar pandemics are inevitable in the future. Long-term, the results from the study have the potential to assist public policy officials and health authorities, as well as manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in anticipating how consumers will react in epidemics.”

“We hope our ongoing research will aid decision makers in understanding and addressing critical needs.”—Dr. Ann Veeck

For many, food is not only necessary for survival but also a source of comfort. Xie looks forward to exploring that dimension in future research. “This study may shed light on the psychological motivations for food consumption during an epidemic and what coping strategies best allow consumers to adapt to new conditions in a crisis."