CHICAGO — Cooped up inside during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, people may long to create a restaurant experience at home. They might buy upscale items, like gourmet coffee paired with a sweet baked food, for such an occasion, said Joan Driggs, vice president, thought leadership, for Information Resources, Inc., in a March 31 webinar.

During the pandemic, people also may stay closer to home, which could mean more trips to the nearby convenience store, leading to more sales of staples at those outlets, she added in the webinar put on by Chicago-based IRI and Washington-based FMI – The Food Industry Association.

Levels of anxiety are rising during the pandemic, Driggs said. While 86% of respondents in an IRI survey on March 15 said they were concerned about COVID-19, the percentage jumped to 94% by March 22. Being socially isolated in a time of economic uncertainty, people may seek comfort in treats, snacks and alcohol, which Driggs called “affordable joys.”

“Retailers should really be taking note of these purchases because as more of that food dollar shifts back into the home, Americans are going to want to recreate some of those social consumption occasions that foodservice really used to offer,” she said. “It could be a cup of coffee and a baked good, or a cocktail and an appetizer.”

Friends, through online visual meetings, could chat while sipping coffee or enjoy a happy hour.

Value at retail still will remain important as the economy suffers because of the pandemic.

“Truly in a recession money is the name of the game,” Driggs said. “Cost is valued more than convenience.”

Brand loyalty will decrease. When people find their favorite brand is out of stock, they could be more willing to try another brand.

“You might want to consider your trade or media spend,” Driggs said. “Prices for digital and spot TV are really trending down right now.”

On April 1 IRI listed dried beans as being a top out-of-stock category along with sanitary supplies like toilet tissue, hand sanitizers and bleach.

COVID-19 could impact convenience store sales since construction workers and other blue-collar workers, who visit convenience stores often, might be out of work and struggling financially.

 “The convenience and gas channel is usually pretty hard hit, but I think at this time it really could emerge as a close-to-home option for consumers, particularly if some of these convenience stores can pivot some of their assortment, maybe in urban areas, to more necessities or even fresh products because people want to stay closer to home,” Driggs said. “So they are going to be more willing to head to those convenience stores.”

The pandemic also has increased e-commerce sales and home shipments. E-commerce sales for edibles for the week ended March 15 grew 95% when compared to the same week of the previous year, according to IRI.

“This is one of those behaviors that I think is really going to stick with us post COVID-19 and even as the economy recovers,” Driggs said.