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Research - 30.08.2021 - 00:00

Coronavirus pandemic is changing eating behaviour

How do Germans, Austrians and the Swiss eat? Which motives control our eating behaviour? How has the Coronavirus pandemic changed our eating habits? These are the questions that Prof. Dr. Thomas Rudolph, Matthias Eggenschwiler and Nora Kralle from the Institute of Retail Management (IRM-HSG) at the University of St.Gallen looked into.

30 August 2021. Over 3,000 consumers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were surveyed. For the sixth time now (after 2003, 2005, 2008, 2014 and 2019), the Institute of Retail Management has surveyed consumers about their eating and consumption behaviour and habits. The survey was conducted in mid-June 2021, when the entire retail and gastronomy sectors in the DACH region had reopened and more than a year had passed since the first lockdown..

As the study by the HSG researchers shows, nutrition is important for around 85% of the consumers surveyed. However, every fourth Swiss citizen is dissatisfied with their diet. The increased dissatisfaction is linked to the increasing body weight gain. During the Coronavirus pandemic the Swiss have gained around 3.3 kilogrammes. The 45-64 age group have actually gained 6.7 kilogrammes compared to 2019.

A lack of discipline and the threat of losing income as given as the main reasons

In all three countries, consumers first and foremost lack the discipline to eat better. Secondly, during the pandemic, consumers had to pay more attention to money when eating out: more than one quarter of the respondents (up from 16% in 2019) say they lack the money needed to eat healthier. Whereas before the pandemic, 31% of consumers lacked the time to eat healthily, today this is only an obstacle for just under a quarter.

Home office changes eating habits

The home office and its rapid rise has had a significant impact on eating habits. Consumers eat more often at home, snack more regularly and cook more often themselves. As home offices will now remain an integral part of many office jobs, these effects can be considered long-term. The food industry needs to revise product ranges and services. Home offices have a particularly strong impact on the gastronomy industry. Although restaurant attendance quickly returned to normal in the evening, it is still suffering at lunchtime. Only 15% still consume their lunch at restaurants at least once a week (down from 32% in 2019). Only 11% still eat in the cafeteria/canteen (in 2019 it was 43%).

The popularity of diets is increasing

57% of all Swiss consumers eat strictly according to one or more diets. In 2019, it was still only about one-third. Vegetarian and vegan diets are particularly popular at the moment. Vegetarians abstain from all foods derived from dead animals in their diet, such as meat and fish, as well as all products derived from them. Vegans avoid all animal-based products, including honey, for example. 12% of all consumers in the DACH region follow a strict vegetarian diet, 5% of them are even strictly vegan. In relation to the 101.3 million inhabitants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this represents around 12 million vegetarians. Of these, 5 million eat a vegan diet. Generation Z refrains from eating meat and fish disproportionately often: 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds eat a vegetarian diet, 7% of them vegan. Among the over-65s, only 6% eat a vegetarian diet, and of these, 2% eat a vegan diet.

Regional foods are in demand

Germans, Austrians and Swiss appreciate regional food a lot more than before the pandemic. Regional products are particularly popular in these pandemic times. Products from the region are rated significantly better across all areas than in 2014 due to their local proximity to the manufacturer. For example, the proportion of those consumers who think the taste of regional products is better than the taste of foreign products has risen from 50 (2014) to 73% in Switzerland. In times of crisis, this return to local and regional products is primarily related to the desire to regain trust and security.

Image: Adobe Stock / korchemkin

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