Shoppers stocking up on health-related items as COVID-19 cases rise, Instacart finds

Dive Brief:

  • Consumers are stepping up purchases of health and wellness items closely associated with the pandemic as COVID-19 cases rise amid the rapid spread of the delta variant, according to data shared by Instacart on July 26.
  • Sales of products such as disinfectant sprays, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and cold medicine were up by 15% or more over the past week on the Instacart platform, while mask sales logged a 37% increase during the past three weeks, the e-commerce provider said.
  • The findings from Instacart underscore the close relationship between people’s supermarket shopping patterns and the threats posed by the pandemic.

Dive Insight:

Instacart’s sales data suggest consumers are responding to mounting signs the COVID-19 crisis is poised to regain momentum during the coming weeks.

In addition to showing that shoppers are increasingly stocking up on health-related items, the company’s insights into what people are buying suggest they are hesitant about resuming pre-pandemic activities. 

The company’s “Pudding Pack Index,” which uses sales of grocery items traditionally in kids’ school lunches to gauge their sense of whether life is returning to how it was before pre-pandemic, has slowed significantly in July after rising at a brisk clip earlier in the year. 

Purchases on Instacart of items in the index, which include granola bars, puddings and fruit snack cups, were nine percentage points below their pre-pandemic levels in May. If current trends continue, however, the index is likely to get only two percentage points closer to normal, according to Instacart.

The shifts in people’s shopping behavior recorded by Instacart, which primarily reflect orders for items from grocery stores and warehouse clubs, are an indication that supermarkets could see at least a partial reprise of the extraordinary demand for grocery staples that characterized the early weeks of the pandemic.

“While we don’t anticipate seeing a return to early COVID-era behaviors like extreme pantry loading, we won’t be surprised to see consumers start re-stocking their pantries in preparation for more time at home and increased safety measures if COVID-19 cases continue to rise and local communities start to pull back on reopening plans,” Instacart Chief Operating Officer Asha Sharma said in a statement.

Instacart also noted shoppers are showing continued interest in avoiding contact with delivery personnel when receiving orders placed on the company’s platform. Customers currently specify the “Leave at My Door Delivery” option, which Instacart introduced nationwide in March 2020, for more than 55% of orders, according to the company.

However, Instacart’s data hints that renewed health and safety precautions vary across the U.S., with mask sales on the platform rising in most western states, but dropping around the rest of the country over the past six weeks.

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