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Americans Are Flocking to the Safety of Comfort Foods

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 3/19/2020 Leslie Patton

(Bloomberg) -- It’s not just toilet paper and bottled water that are filling the nation’s sanitized shopping carts. Americans are stocking up on champagne and other indulgences, too.

Chocolate, ice cream, popcorn and potato chip sales jumped for the week ending March 7, according to data tracker Nielsen. Pastry purchases soared by more than 18%. All those figures are poised to accelerate in coming weeks.

Beyond subsistence products, consumers are eager to grab “the types of foods that may make their social distancing even a little more tolerable,” said Laura McCullough, Nielsen’s executive vice president of U.S. manufacturer client success.

As the virus sweeps across the U.S., it’s upending daily life for many, forcing people to steer clear of offices, restaurants and bars. That means much more eating -- and drinking -- is actually take place in the home. Nearly half of Americans are avoiding eating out now, according to a report from menu researcher Datassential.

“It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this increase,” the study said.

While few of us are in a celebratory mood, that hasn’t dented demand for pricey booze. Beau Joie Champagne has seen its sales jump 40% in the past five days to approach levels usually seen around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Big markets like New York, California and Illinois saw a “complete run” for bottles of bubbly that range from $69 to $135, said Jon Deitelbaum, chief executive officer of the brand’s parent company Toast Spirits.

“People are making the decision to drink better because they’re sacrificing experience,” he said, noting the mass restaurant closures across the U.S. “Even in the worst of times, people still want to say ‘Happy Birthday’ or celebrate their anniversary.”

Top Seller

With coffee shops closed or limited to grab-and-go orders, New Barn Organics has seen a four-fold increase in demand for its creamy barista-style almond milk. The beverage is now New Barn’s top seller, ahead of its lower-calorie, no-sugar version.

“People are not shifting into healthier food,” New Barn Chief Executive Officer Ted Robb said. “They’re shifting into comfort food.”

In addition to sweet and salty stuff, beef suppliers have benefited from consumers cleaning out supermarket meat cases, prompting U.S. wholesale prices for premium protein to rise the most in over two years earlier this week.

In these anxious times, meat is not an indulgence for Americans, says Julie Anna Potts, CEO of the North American Meat Institute. “It makes them feel secure.”

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