What shopping trends have come out of 2020? Toilet paper and antibacterial soaps are sure to be at the top of the list. Instacart looked at what their customers have been buying to see which products are finding their way into grocery baskets across America.

The last six months have been unprecedented and unexpected for everyone. As shelter-in-place orders rolled out nationwide, people’s sense of normalcy changed almost instantaneously, and many turned to grocery delivery services to get the items they need safely. As Instacart baskets started filling up, Senior Product Manager and Trends Expert, Laurentia Romaniuk, partnered with the data science team to better understand just how drastically America’s shopping habits were changing in the wake of COVID-19. 

Groceries

The team looked into search data, examining aisle-by-aisle performance and trending terms to trace online grocery searches through winter, spring and summer. While many people were looking for toilet paper in March, other items topped the charts as the quarantine lifestyle continued. 

Romaniuk noticed that cleaning products and household goods dominated search trends in early March. Brand names like Clorox and Lysol emerge as popular terms as consumers began scouring digital shelves for trusted disinfectant products.

Searches in both the “Household Cleaning” and “Personal Care/Bathroom Needs” categories rose in unison through the month of March.

With the stay-at-home orders in full swing, people started to spend more time experimenting in the kitchen and indulging in homemade comfort foods to pass the time.

Romaniuk said, “The wild surges we experienced in the baking category led us to believe that consumers started feeding those sourdough starters and preheating their ovens in early April. ‘Yeast’ and ‘all-purpose flour’ proved to be two of our most popular search terms platform-wide in early spring.”

 

Aside from homemade bread, other comforting foods and seasonal flavors began to unexpectedly trend during the early days, including the classic fall favorite pumpkin spice.  

We were surprised to see searches for ‘pumpkin spice’ and ‘pumpkin’ start spiking as early as March this year. Given that pumpkin spice is associated with coziness and pleasant Fall activities, it seems that consumers may be seeking extra comfort during an unsettling time,” said Romaniuk.

As we entered spring many Americans became desperate for personal grooming products after going weeks without hair cuts or coloring, manicures. This is when beauty and personal care items began to spike. In particular, nail polish, tanning lotion, and hair care products proved popular amongst those eager for some self-care.

 

With the warmer weather people started leaving their living rooms to set up camp in their backyards. Seasonal items started to trickle into trending search terms. Barbecue-related products like grill fuel, hamburger buns, charcoal, and fresh produce like melons saw a predictable uptick in search.

One unexpected outdoor item caught Instacart by surprise, bird food. Another at-home quarantine trend—searches for bird food increased by as much as 450% in the spring.

Romaniuk said, “In the spring of 2020, homebound nature-lovers turned to Instacart to kickstart their backyard birding habit. Just after the first stay-at-home order in the United States was issued, searches for ‘bird food’ began to climb, vastly outpacing its performance in 2019. With more and more people taking staycations and spending time in their yards as the weather warms, it makes sense that we’ve all taken up birding —an inexpensive, socially distant hobby.”

Romaniuk and the team are now looking at the fastest rising search terms across our digital aisles to predict what products may start to trend in the months ahead. In August they saw classic fall favorites and back-to-school staples like Lunchables, pumpkin spice, pickling/mason jars, spaghetti squash, and shelf-stable gravy tick upwards.  

Additionally, preliminary data shows that consumers are also starting to pay closer attention to their health and sleeping habits this fall. 

Romaniuk said, “‘Melatonin’ was in our top ten fastest growing search terms in early August, leaping up 139 slots in our search rankings in just four weeks. Protein supplements and acai health drinks also appeared on our list. As parents turn their attention back to remote work, at-home schooling, and life inside, I predict we’ll see more products in the dietary and health supplement categories trend this fall.”

Romaniuk will continue to monitor shopping habits through the fall to see what happens as the holiday season draws near.

—Jennifer Swartvagher

Featured photo: Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

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