The coronavirus crisis has altered not just how shoppers go about getting food, but where and what they eat, too.

As hard as America’s remote workforce might be laboring away at their jobs, according to a new report from Instacart, a growing number are taking time during the workday to shop for produce. Year-over-year data from the San Francisco-based online grocery platform shows orders placed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. have increased 32%.

An influx of people preparing meals at home interested in keeping their dishes new and exciting has led to a boost in sales of flavorful spices and condiments. Portuguese piri piri sauce, for instance, is up 725%. Lao Gan Ma chili crisp is up 227%.

The low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet is also popular on the platform. Products with “keto” in their name have seen sales spike 72%.

“After months of binge-baking, drinking more and indulging in quarantine comfort foods, our findings show that the pendulum is swinging the other way as online consumers set their sights on a new year full of bolder flavors, lower-alcohol cocktails and resolution-friendly keto snacks,” said Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s trends expert and senior product manager, in a statement.

Another trend is the prevalence of alcohol-free spirits, low-calorie alcoholic beverages and boozy versions of popular health drinks. In terms of searches, hard kombucha is up 320%, while the hard seltzer category has climbed 519%.

“Homemade craft cocktails have been popular this year with the work-from-home crowd,” Romaniuk said. “We’ve seen sales for trendy alcohol-free spirits boom, increasing by 195% year-over-year. Perhaps consumers are looking to turn over a new leaf in 2021 with tasty, guilt-free libations.”

It’s been a big year for Instacart. Following the outbreak of Covid-19, the company’s usage rates skyrocketed. In March and April, Instacart’s customer order volume rose as much as 500% compared to the previous year. The platform has added over 150 new retailers and more than 10,000 store locations to its network since January. It’s now able to deliver groceries and everyday essentials from over 500 retail partners to 85% of U.S households.

Overall, shelter-in-place orders and lockdown measures have coincided with a surge in people buying groceries online. Over the last month, Frito-Lay reports traffic to its direct-to-consumer site has spiked more than 1,000%. Recently, grocery chain Kroger became one of the top 10 U.S. ecommerce companies with $11.3 billion in annual digital sales, according to eMarketer. General Mills has seen its ecommerce business grow from 5% of total sales during its previous fiscal year to nearly 9% today.

“For us, that’s a huge leap forward,” Jeanine Bassett, vp of consumer and market intelligence at General Mills, told Adweek. “And we know that once consumers get by that first purchase—there’s a lot of first-timers out there—those are pretty sticky.”

Despite improvements, total restaurant sales remain down nine months into the pandemic. Customer transactions at major restaurant chains were 8% lower in November compared to the same period last year, according to the NPD Group.

But in a boon for Instacart and its competitors, restaurant losses have turned into gains for grocery stores, driving up prices. Nielsen numbers show that last month, shoppers paid 3.1 percentage points more for the same basket of popular grocery items as they did in November 2019.

Source: Adweek