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Neman: The coronavirus is changing the way we shop for groceries

Neman: The coronavirus is changing the way we shop for groceries

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It started the first day of the lockdown. Americans raced to the stores and bought every single roll of toilet paper on the planet.

But as we settled into the daily grind of the pandemic, our grocery-store shopping habits continued to evolve. A new survey published by C+R Research shows the dramatic ways we have changed.

Here, sadly, is the most dramatic change of all: Of the more than 2,000 people surveyed, 19% said they had witnessed a verbal altercation at a grocery store, and 11% said they had witnessed a physical altercation. Eight percent said they had been a participant in a verbal altercation, and 8% also said they had been a participant in a physical altercation.

Yes, people are stressed. Yes, the notion of social distancing has particular emotional resonance for a lot of folks who feel their health or their freedom is at stake. But here’s the thing: The survey was taken on March 27 and 28. That was less than two weeks after things started shutting down.

And in less than two weeks, nearly one in five of us had seen people get into an argument at a grocery store, and one in 12 (OK, 12½) of us had been in a verbal or physical fight.

That is just stunning, and it does not speak well of us as a people.

Perhaps the problem is anxiety. Sixty percent of those surveyed reported being fearful to shop at a grocery store, and 60% (it may well be the same 60%) said they feel a sense of anxiety or panic when they shop. Frayed nerves do not lend themselves to collegial grocery experiences.

Most of us — but not all of us — also are making fewer trips to the grocery store than we did before the onset of the coronavirus. Of those surveyed, 73% said they are going to the store less often than before, while 15% actually said they are making more trips.

Before the virus, the people surveyed were making an average of 2.3 weekly trips to the grocery store; that number has dropped to once a week now.

Obviously, if we are making fewer trips, we are spending more at the grocery store, from an average of $159 per trip pre-COVID-19 to an average of $184 now. If those amounts seem high to you, or low, remember that these figures are averages; some people are buying for large families, some for themselves.

And there may be another reason the amount of money per trip has gone up, too: Fully half of the people surveyed said they had witnessed price gouging, and 48% said they had paid more for certain items.

And what is that money spent on? Forty-seven percent said they had changed their diet or eating habits. Of those who have changed, 47% said they are eating more processed foods (20% said they are eating less processed foods). Thirty-six percent are eating less produce, while 21% are eating more.

Only 14% are eating more meat and poultry, while 26% are eating less.

Not surprisingly, grocery deliveries have increased three-and-a-half times, while online orders have increased two-and-a-half times.

Even so, only 58% of us feel safe handling items from delivery drivers, and 47% of us disinfect items once they have been delivered. Fifty-nine percent have stopped ordering takeout and delivery altogether.

Meanwhile, l took a survey of my own, and here is what I learned: One hundred percent of us will be glad when this whole thing is over.

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