What consumers want in quarantine: Spam makes a resurgence

Utah grocer sees some surprises in top selling items

Say the word “spam” and most people think of the unwanted emails that clutter their inboxes. However, a growing number of consumers have been seeking out the other type of Spam — the canned pork produced by Minnesota-based Hormel Foods Corporation.

Utah grocery chain Harmons saw sales of Spam jump as cases of the coronavirus grew and more government entities discussed shelter-at-home orders or guidance. Using real-time data from analytics provider Domo, Harmons was able to quickly identify the top-selling 1,000 items of the roughly 60,000 SKUs the stores carry. Spam, along with Dinty Moore Beef Stew, were part of the group.

“They haven’t been top items for as long as I can remember,” says Todd Jensen, vice president of sales. When stay-at-home mandates were first discussed, it often wasn’t clear how restrictive they would be, he notes. Consumers didn’t know if they’d be in their homes for weeks with little ability to leave. “They were looking for items with longer shelf lives,” he says.

By having rapid access to the stores’ top sellers, Jensen and his colleagues were able to streamline orders with suppliers, some of which had seen demand jump four to five times their typical levels, creating bottlenecks. They asked Harmons to identify the top 4,000 SKUs on which they should focus. With this information, “the suppliers were able to adjust what they were pulling to be more efficient,” Jensen says.

Shifting shopping habits

Now that most Americans have been sheltering in place for several weeks, their shopping patterns are gradually shifting. The early runs on cleaning supplies and toilet paper are subsiding, and consumers’ focus is shifting to items that can make quarantining more pleasant and productive.

A flash poll of 1,500 consumers conducted early in April by the National Retail Federation showed jumps in several product categories. Purchases of home organization and cleaning supplies jumped by 24 percent. “People are spending more time at home, and want their spaces organized,” says Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights with NRF. Moreover, with more family members spending more time at home, keeping everyone’s gear organized often becomes a greater challenge.

Purchases of “old-school” entertainment, including board games and puzzles, also jumped, rising by 17 percent. Many people have more time on their hands, and parents need to find ways to keep their kids entertained and occupied for large block of time, Cullen notes.

Purchases of craft and hobby supplies rose by a similar percentage. Many people want to do something productive, even if it’s not work-related, Cullen says. Home beauty and personal care supplies were up, as well, rising by 18 percent. With many beauty salons closed, more Americans are forced to turn to DIY methods.

Shopping channels also change

Perhaps not surprisingly, the ways in which consumers are shopping also are changing. The NRF poll revealed that more than half of consumers — 52 percent — ordered items online that they normally would pick up in a store. Nearly one-third used a delivery service like Instacart or Shipt, in which a shopper brings items to their homes that they normally would purchase in a store.

Harmons has seen this play out, Jensen says. “When this started, online shopping went crazy.” While it’s abated some, he says online shopping volumes remain two to three times the level they were before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

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