Meal Delivery Trends

Consuming and producing food has become much more difficult since the pandemic. Restaurant supply chains were put under immense strain, many locations closed entirely, and grocery stores often sold out of crucial items. And in order to adapt to all of this, many consumers frequently found their wallets strained as well—many of the safer, socially-distanced options like delivery cost more money and perhaps more time. So how are Americans buying and consuming food today? How did the coronavirus change those behaviors for good? And which demographics (generations, employee types, etc.) are spending what?

Consumers in the U.S.—one of the many countries experiencing a major resurgence of the coronavirus—recently gave us the answers. We asked more than 1,000 people across the country to share how their monthly food costs have been impacted, how they’re keeping themselves fed, and what their future food plans are. If you’re curious to see where your demographic or individual food choices fall in the larger landscape, keep reading.

Costs of Eating the COVID Way

Our study begins with a look into what it costs to eat in the most popular ways today. We asked respondents how much they spent on groceries, takeout, and/or ready-made meals each month. Responses were then broken down and compared by people’s work status, skill set, and age group.

Monthly, the average American is mostly likely to spend $301 or more on food. The more expensive option of takeout was a rarer treat for most, with fewer than half spending more than $100 on this choice each month. In spite of the convenience delivery can offer, its added cost may have been too difficult to swallow (no pun intended) during such economically strained times—the hardest global financial hit since WWII.

Remote workers were most likely to take on the additional cost of takeout. Nearly a third of this group found themselves spending $151 or more on delivered food each month, compared to just 28.4% of those working in person. This may also reflect a generalized salary difference between those able to work remotely and those considered essential workers. Essential workers (often on-site) comprise about 51% of the U.S. workforce today, though earn an average of just $15 an hour, likely not enough to opt in to regular takeout options.

Most Common Routes to Nourishment

Our study now dives into the habits and routines people have with their food consumption. Respondents shared their top methods for acquiring meals today, which we then compared by generation and neighborhood type.

In-person groceries—arguably the “riskiest” method of food acquisition in a pandemic—were still the most popular option by far. Eighty-five percent of respondents were getting their food this way, an indication that even in the age of social distancing, financial constraints are still too pressing to avoid the in-person fray. Just 22.1% chose to have their groceries delivered.

Grocery delivery services were also evidently less accessible to those living in rural areas. While 23.6% of people living in an urban area had been using grocery delivery services, just a small 6.8% of people in rural areas were able to say the same. This was also reflected among age differences—younger people, who tend to congregate in urban, rather than rural, areas—were also the most likely to use delivery services for their food. People aged 18 through 29 were the most likely to use boxed meal subscriptions, both ready to cook (17.1%) and ready-made (8.9%). Overall, however, this type of delivery remained relatively unpopular compared to old-fashioned grocery shopping.

Go-To Pandemic Eats

With the economic boost that the pandemic gave the takeout industry, certain companies jumped to fill the market need. Here we asked our respondents to share the companies they used for grocery delivery, boxed meal delivery, ready to cook meals, and delivery apps.

The single most popular company for food delivery apps specifically was DoorDash. A whopping 70.3% of respondents ordered food this way. According to MarketWatch, the pandemic is estimated to have more than doubled the revenue of food delivery apps alone. Unfortunately, this isn’t leading to an overall net positive benefit for restaurants.

To order groceries, most turned to Walmart’s Grocery Delivery service (34%) or Instacart (31.6%). These were much more popular options than even a giant like Amazon, which only 17.2% of people used to deliver their groceries post-pandemic. Walmart’s food delivery services are cheaper than Amazon’s, though their free trial window is shorter. Walmart’s membership also offers a discount on fuel, which Amazon does not.

The Future of Food

Looking forward, and hopefully beyond, the pandemic, the landscape of food consumption may very well be forever changed. Our study wraps up with a look at respondents’ plans for continued food consumption in the latter half of 2021 and beyond.

In-person grocery shopping will continue to be the most common way people shop for food, in spite of its decreased chances of social distancing. Those who used meal delivery apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats mostly plan on continuing their use of these services, with nearly 80% saying apps will be their meal procurement method for the unforeseeable future. And though nearly 1 in 4 grocery delivery users will likely curtail their grocery deliveries, in-store pickup will remain relatively popular.

Remote workers stood out here most often planning to use ready to cook boxed meal subscriptions like Hello Fresh. Those 44 or younger were most likely to stick with meal delivery apps like DoorDash, while the 30–44 age group often anticipated ordering groceries online and picking them up and/or having them delivered.

Financing Your Future Food

Even groceries can take a toll on the wallet and that’s before you consider the economic turmoil that the pandemic’s already caused. Respondents were most likely to be spending upwards of $300 each month, even if they purchased all of their meals from the grocery store. Takeout appeared to be a luxury that few planned on continuing, even if they had previously afforded the behavior.

Saving money on food is indeed possible, however. Whether your preference is for delivery services, in-person shopping, or some type of mix, CouponFollow can assist you with daily discounts. CouponFollow delivers instant access to the latest discount codes on the internet, whether that be for food or any of your other necessities. Find the most affordable way to get your food today and head to CouponFollow.com to see how we can help.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected responses from 1,013 employed Americans via Surveymonkey. Approximately 48.2% of our participants identified as men, 51.8% identified as women, and less than 1% identified as nonbinary or nonconforming. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 78 with an average age of 39. 25.7% were ages 18-29, 21,3% were ages 30-44, 33% were ages 45-60, and 20% were ages 60 or older. 38.2% of respondents worked remotely, while 61.8% worked in person or in a hybrid setting. 68% of respondents stated that they ate healthy, 18.6% ate neither healthy nor unhealthy, and 13.4% identified as unhealthy eaters. 23% identified as novice skilled home cooks, 55.8% as intermediate, and 21.2% as advanced home cooks. 20.4% of respondents lived in a rural area, 54.1% in a suburban area, and 20.5% in an urban area.

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

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about the author

Marc Mezzacca
Marc Mezzacca is CEO of CouponFollow, a consumer savings engine that surfaces popular coupons. He has been in the coupon and deals industry for over a decade with a deep interest in evolving e-commerce technologies.