Snack Food and Wholesale Bakery recently was able to talk with Poorvi Patodia, founder and CEO, Biena Snacks, about how the coronavirus quarantine is affecting consumers' buying and snacking habits.


Liz Parker: What habits are changing during the quarantine?
Poorvi Patodia: Pandemic eating habits—including snacking habits—have wide swings. At one end of the spectrum, we're seeing a return to comfort foods, snacks included, because they bring a sense of familiarity and nostalgia, which we could all use right now. At the other end, there's enhanced diligence with respect to healthy eating due to reduced activity and/or greater control over food intake with the forced at-home eating.

We’re also seeing experimentation and new trial—sometimes because shelves have been ravaged or supply chains disrupted, but also because bringing home something new to try offers a departure from the monotonous. Over the past five weeks, more than 70 percent of Biena customers in certain channels were new to the brand. That kind of new trial for existing products is mind blowing.  

Finally, we are seeing a shift towards online grocery purchase and at-home delivery across a number of retailers.  As many as one third of consumers ordering groceries online are doing so for the first time.

LP: How do you think these habits will shift as we move through the pandemic?
PP: It really depends on how long we're all advised to stay home, how retailers and supply chains are ultimately affected and how the economy withstands this unprecedented set of circumstances.

We expect the polarized eating habits will move toward the center. Those indulging in comfort foods will put on their “button pants” to quote (hey, have to stay entertained!) and discover they could rein it in a bit. Those diligently keeping to healthy eating plans may veer off the path because macaroni and cheese on a rainy day brings a moment of joy. 

Consumer willingness to experiment and try new things will be affected by the retail environment. After finally getting inside the grocery store after waiting outside in line, you’re focused on getting the job done as quickly as possible rather than on browsing and impulse buying. 

We're paying attention to industry reports that consumers are starting to recession proof—buying value brands over premium and channel shifting to more value-driven retailers. All of these habit shifts will affect snacks as a category that is considered essential to some and a luxury to others.

As it relates to ecommerce, we expect that a percentage of new online grocery purchasers will continue to shop online after the quarantine out of convenience and experiencing firsthand that it's a viable option for their families.

LP: How is ecommerce in the snack space changing throughout COVID-19?
PP: Biena's ecommerce business is exploding and we are seeing the same across the snacking category broadly. Amazon, Instacart, retailer websites—we're seeing growth everywhere. As a brand that has built our business on brick and mortar, we’re now ramping up efforts to drive awareness and trial through ecommerce and other digital sampling tools. We’re exploring what this means and getting creative with new ways to attract new customers and stay top of mind for current fans.

LP: How are brands pivoting strategies to keep up with demand?
PP: As COVID-19 was just entering the United States, we took a deep dive into our inventories and forecasts to develop contingency plans to proactively build or shift inventory to ensure continuity on our top SKUs. We also pivoted our sales and marketing strategies, putting a significant focus on expanding our presence and driving trial through a variety of ecommerce sites, which appears to be the case for much of the industry.

LP: How is Biena working through the kinks in the current supply chain?
PP: We are fortunate that our entire supply chain exists in the United States and we were not affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in other countries. We are in regular close contact with our production and distribution partners to monitor and manage out of stocks wherever possible, which often come in unpredictable waves. Our partners have been incredibly nimble and have exercised great care and caution in their work. The entire industry is learning how to navigate this, and we're lucky to have a team—both internal at Biena and external partners—who are very clearly working toward a common end goal.