Background The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted usual routines, including families’ food acquisition and consumption patterns. This pandemic could have lasting effects on consumer behaviour and implications for future strategies to improve population diet. The aim of this study was to gain in-depth understanding of families lived experiences by i) examining the impact of disruption resulting from the pandemic on the food purchasing and eating behaviours of young women, and ii) identifying the insights these experiences bring to designing future healthy eating interventions.
Methods A cross-sectional sample of 34 customers aged 18–45 years, from a UK discount supermarket chain completed semi-structured telephone interviews. Women were asked questions to understand their lived experiences of food shopping, cooking, and eating during the COVID-19 lockdown. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically using QSR NVIVO software. Six researchers were involved in developing the initial coding framework, double coding of eleven interview transcripts and refining the coding framework.
Results Participants’ median age was 35 years and 56% were in paid employment. Findings show that participants displayed emotional responses to COVID-19 pandemic disruptions of their food purchasing and dietary behaviours. Anxiety was common, with many feeling anxious about not acquiring enough or preferred foods for their families; contracting COVID-19 while food shopping; or needing to balance food costs, meal/snack variety and health. Frustration was also widespread, particularly about those who stockpiled; the poor availability of products which caused challenging situations at family mealtimes; shoppers who did not respect social distancing rules; and queues/one-way systems that made food shopping longer or less successful. These negative emotions were balanced against feelings of empathy, altruism, and pleasure. Many participants were understanding of government and supermarket restrictions or took the risk of shopping in-store to leave delivery slots for vulnerable customers or to help neighbours. Several women enjoyed leaving the house/family to go food shopping but missed being able to browse for meal ideas; others liked having more family meals and time to cook healthier dishes together.
Conclusion Strategies to improve food purchasing and diet may be enhanced if positive emotions, like pleasure in families cooking and eating together, are targeted. As communicating the necessity for COVID-19 rules increased the public acceptance of these restrictions, a similar approach could be adopted for government policies to improve supermarket environments that may disrupt shoppers’ routines but are necessary to improve shopping patterns.
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