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COVID-19’s impact on food and drink markets in Southeast Asia

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New research from Mintel, ‘The Experts in What Consumers Want and Why’, reveals the changes in consumer sentiment and behavioriour surrounding food and drink categories as a result of the spread of COVID-19 across Southeast Asia.
Tan Heng Hong, APAC Food and Drink Analyst, Mintel said: “The global spread of COVID-19 is forcing Southeast Asian consumers to cope by changing their eating habits and embracing new shopping practices. The threat of infection is reinforcing the importance of having a healthy immune system, unlocking new opportunities for brands to innovate around immunity to ward off future diseases. The online grocery sector is seeing a surge in activity due to the fact that many shoppers are staying home, presenting huge opportunities for grocery retailers to better engage with consumers through measures that bring added value and convenience. We’re also seeing growing interest in at-home cooking, which presents challenges and opportunities for brands looking to engage with those preparing and enjoying tasty meals at home.”
Reinforcing messages of immune support across food and drink innovation
Given today’s consumer climate, food and drink categories with strong immunity claims can drive home the importance of immunity to protect wary consumers.
According to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), growing-up milk (one-four-years) (16 percent), meal replacement drinks (6 percent), and drinking yogurt/liquid cultured milk (6 percent) make up the largest share of food and drink product launches in Southeast Asia that carried an immunity claim between March 2017 and February 2020.
“Manufacturers of immunity-boosting food and drink products are actively promoting the importance of immunity to strengthen the body during the pandemic. These immunity-enhancing products include vitamin-fortified food and drinks, as well as spoonable yogurt, drinking/cultured yogurt, and nutritionally-complete drinks,” continued Heng Hong.
E-commerce thrives as consumers avoid the outdoors
More and more consumers are turning to the convenience of ordering their groceries online as people choose to stay indoors to minimise their exposure to COVID-19. As a result, online grocery vendors have witnessed a surge in orders.
“Online grocery players can maximise the current situation and gain new users by showcasing the benefits of shopping for groceries online, including having sufficient stock of popular items during the pandemic, safe handling and delivery of parcels, free delivery, promotions, and use of e-payments,” Heng Hong went on to say.
Opportunity to make at-home meals tasty, convenient and nutritious
Preparing healthy food that tastes good can be a real challenge for many people, including those who are new to cooking. According to Mintel research, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of consumers in Vietnam cook meals from scratch all or most of the time. Still, 52 percent say it is difficult to prepare healthy food that tastes good.
As more consumers dine at home to avoid crowds, food manufacturers can step in to provide them with a more convenient, tasty and healthy meal solution.
“With the rise in cases of COVID-19, Southeast Asian consumers are changing their food and drink habits. Even after the current situation calms down, given the scale of the outbreak, and depending on the duration of lockdown measures, the pandemic is likely to leave an indelible mark on consumer lifestyles. Key behaviours such as vigilance around immunity and hygiene will stick around for the long term, as will dependence on online grocery shopping and, possibly, even the habit of at-home cooking,” concluded Heng Hong.

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