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Millennials 2

Understanding a brave new consumer world

By Elise-Marie Steenkamp

The impact of COVID-19 on the world, economy, and consumers can be equated to a meteor hitting earth. It has changed everything, but will those changes have a lasting effect? Local consumer reports indicate that people avoid malls, refrain from impulse buying, and are serious about value for money. The uncertain environment forces consumers to count their cents.

A recent McKinsey consumer behaviour research report, identified ten consumer trends in the USA that they argue are here to stay.

According to the report, COVID-19 has profoundly changed consumer behaviour. The researchers highlight the following broad concepts impacting societal trends:

  • Flight to online
  • Shock to loyalty
  • Need for hygiene transparency
  • Back to basics and value
  • Rise of the homebody economy

The ten consumer trends that are here to stay are:

  • Online shopping;
  • Millennials and high-income earners are first in line when it comes to online shopping;
  • Consumers are swopping brands at an unprecedented rate;
  • Brands need to ensure needs to ensure strong availability and convey value;
  • US consumers are changing how they shop in response to health and safety concerns;
  • Consumer shopping intent is focused on essentials;
  • Consumers want value for money – specifically in the essentials category;
  • Americans are changing how they spend their time at home;
  • Americans are concerned about going back to regular activities outside the home;
  • ‘Great consumer shift’ trends vary by consumer segment.

The big question for agriculture, fresh produce, canning, and dried fruit, is how these trends will impact our industry.

At a recent Hortgro Dried Tree Fruit (DTF)/Canning Fruit Producers Association (CFPA) webinar the difficult subject of consumer behaviour during a worldwide pandemic was raised. The recently launched Dried Fruit SA consumer campaign emphasized the challenges created by a fishbowl world regulated by social media. Most of these challenges were already present pre-COVID-19. The pandemic has amplified the difficulties of operating in this environment.

DFSA’s campaign is playing in the arena of the highly-competitive snack category. “We have to remain relevant in the market. In order to do that we have to fight misconceptions, misinformation, hyper-sensitivity, and ‘the war on sugar’,” said Henniel Smit, the campaign’s marketing manager. “We have a responsibility to educate consumers about the nutritional advantages of eating dried fruit, compared to a packet of chips. Consumers are discerning, want value for money, but are also easily led by social media influencers. That is why we work with a dietician to state facts about dried fruit, such as high fibre content, packed with vitamins, iron, and other health benefits, as opposed to disinformation.”

According to Smit the credibility and reputation of the South African fruit industry are highly regarded worldwide. “South African fruits are known for their exceptional taste and overall high-quality. We have to use that to our advantage. There is an opportunity to convince consumers that dried fruit should be a staple food and have prominent space in the pantry. Especially for health-conscious, eco-aware, sustainably-supportive Millennials. ”

Early on in the pandemic DTF and the International Prune Association said that there was a higher demand for dried fruit internationally with specifically old-age homes, hospitals, and other institutions stocking up on dried fruit. Higher demand was reported in the USA, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe. Consumers turned to dried fruit, because of its long-shelf-life and concentrated nutritional value, during the stocking-up period of the pandemic.  DTF said that dried fruit will never replace fresh fruit, but should be seen as an additional way of consuming your ‘five a day’. It is excellent value for money.

CFPA CEO, Jacques Jordaan, said that consumer trends are never stable and continuously changing. Today consumers are informed and price sensitive. They want value for their money. The preservation of fresh produce is thousands of years old and part of human history. Processing is still a convenient and efficient way to preserve fruit.

“It is a safe and healthy way to store food. No chemicals or preservatives are used, and preservation is achieved by heat treatment and airtight sealing. There are added advantages in that vitamins are preserved in the canning process, and canned fruit is easier to digest, and of course, it has a long shelf life.”

Jordaan also said that COVID-19 consumers should be seen as an opportunity, with diversification as the name of the game. “About 85% of our product is exported. Locally South Africans should be educated about the advantages of canned fruit, while producers should create space for diverse agricultural practices.”

In conclusion, changes in consumer behaviour will trigger a re-think of agricultural strategies and necessitate adaptation to the new norm. This will filter through the value chain to retailers and producers on the ground. Even though the pandemic has brought many uncertainties; what is crystal clear is that agriculture needs to keep its finger on the consumer pulse, monitor the situation 24/7, and be prepared to adapt quickly.


  • Adjusting mix and spend to where the consumer is now (go digital, ensure full coverage of bottom-funnel marketing and demand capture, think region-by-region)
  • Revamping messaging and creative to be in sync with the times, particularly in terms of hygiene and value
  • Ensuring the end-to-end journey meets the new hygiene and at-home needs
  • Managing corporate social-responsibility efforts to build brand strength authentically
  • Refocusing on online and pickup solutions and rebuilding real-time measurement plans, as traditional media-mix models won’t suffice.



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