UK Nut consumption effect in lockdown

UK Nut consumption effect in lockdown

What has been the effect on nut consumption in the UK grocery market during the pandemic?

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, 24 weeks to week ending 9 August 2020, Kantar research* confirmed there was a dramatic change in grocery shopping habits. In terms of the nut (and dried fruit cross over) category, this led to an overall increase during the period of national lockdown which would lead to a sizable unplanned increase. Will this increase continue or be sustained? Is it a temporary aberration during the lockdown of the pandemic or is it a real and lasting change in behaviour? How can brands respond?

Let us compare 2020 with 2019

Taking a snapshot of the 24 weeks (to week ending 9 August 2020) with the equivalent period one year earlier saw expenditure of nuts soar by 20% over the lockdown period with more shopping trips, more shoppers, higher basket volumes, and increased prices. Kantar data outlines that adjustments to buying ‘amounts to an extra £58M for the category’.

Summary of the Retail grocery data for the 24 weeks ending on 9 August 2020:

  • Frequency of shopping trips for nuts: 6.7 (+6.7%)
  • Number of packs purchased per trip: 1.6 (+2.9%)
  • Volume of packs per shopper 10.5 (+9.8%)
  • Nut packs sold 202.5 million or 8.44m per week (+15.9%)
  • Number of shoppers buying nuts 19.2 million (+5.5%)
  • Price per nut pack £1.68 (+3.9%)
  • Expenditure on nuts £341.0 million or £14.21m per week (+20.4%)

Commentary on the summary data

To comment on the research data. Examining the 28 weeks ending on 23 February 2020, the period before the 24 weeks (ending 9 August 2020) as above, the spend per buyer actually decreased by around 1%. The price per pack also declined by 1.3%. There was an increase in the number of packs due in part to the larger number of buyers even though frequency of buying trips for nuts dropped by 2.3%.

Summary of the Retail grocery data for the 52 weeks ending on the 9 August 2020:

  • Frequency of shopping trips for nut for the 12.0 (+4.6%)
  • Number of packs purchased per trip: 1.6 (+2.2%)
  • Volume of packs per shopper 18.9 (+7.0%)
  • Nut packs sold 439.2 million or £8.45m per week (+9.0%)
  • Number of shoppers buying nuts 23.3 million (+1.9%)
  • Price per nut pack £1.69 (+0.9%)
  • Expenditure on nuts £741.8 million or £14.27m per week (+10.0%)

Examining the 52 week period, it seems that the same behaviour is exhibited as we move into week 53, ending 9 August 2020, when compared with the equivalent period previously. One might interpret these figures as having the same long term trend albeit with a softer growth due to less extreme buying before March 2020. So in summary we are seeing buyer behaviour return back to previous levels and not, as brands might hope, maintain a higher uplift trajectory. Can this pattern be influenced?

The pattern of purchasing nuts was altered

Home baking and staying at home cooking altered the pattern of purchasing to increase the sales of nuts, which offer a source of protein, energy, minerals and fats.

Baking with nuts can enhance the taste, texture, colour and together with their fat levels are high in energy. In most nuts this is mainly unsaturated fat: either polyunsaturated fats in walnuts and pine nuts, or monounsaturated fats in almonds, pistachios, pecans and hazelnuts, for example.

Look out for our article on the health aspects of nuts in October and our commentary on how the health aspects of nuts can help support an increase in consumption.

Lockdown lives: Which of our habits are going and which are we sticking with?

Observations on our 5th month of lockdown (April to August 2020). Home Baking saw rapid growth during early lockdown, with a reported increase by 63% in the first 4 weeks and by July the Kantar Usage panel reported that this had reduced significantly to a 21% increase. The data highlights that Home Baking will likely return to ‘normal’ if shopping restrictions continue to normalise.

However, purchases that are showing no signs of reverting to ‘normal’ are Hygiene, Liquid Soap continues to be by far and away the strongest growing market at +150% Year-on-Year, for virus prevention. Also, E-commerce (Online orders/Home delivery) share has continued to rise week on week during lockdown, now hitting 13% within Grocery over the last 4 weeks to August 2020.

Maintain growth for nut sales

Retail promotions and consumer education combined can offer to buck the normalisation declining trend. Strategic In-store activity (like Point of Sale, Gondola end caps, Shelf-talkers) and particularly online communication messages, including Product promotions, Home baking inspiration, Health tips and will all help to maintain a level of increase in nut sales. We would expect to see individual nut categories fluctuating as the brands conduct their own unique promotions in response to the pandemic.

One such nut category that might like to benefit from the recent ‘Home baking’ increases and maintain a sustained uplift growth would be walnuts. Global Trade Tracker (GTT) import data highlights that this category has shrunk in size since 2016-17 by 8% (in 2016/17 from 12,131 MT to 2019/20 to 11,169 MT – In-shelled and Shelled. [GTT data covers the 12-month period from 01 July to 30 June).

In conclusion

The pandemic and lockdown gave a welcome boost (by over 20%) to nut purchases and at this time there is no evidence that this is a permanent or long-lasting trend. However, individual nut commodities and brands may be able to influence the trend of this category level data by tailoring their retail promotions to disrupt this pattern: Promotions to influence a new trend with the aim to help turn a new behaviour into new buying habit.

For an update on how the UK grocery buyer behaviour adjusted during the national lockdown, click here.


Professor Krish Bhaskar
An author, speaker, and commentator. Active within the US Agricultural sector, from the policy and political standpoint, and Brexit and future US trade relations.

* With thanks to Kantar and Joe Shaw Roberts for their support on the data and analysis.

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