Consumer spending: growth for the Food & Drink sector, particularly for local products

In 2018 and 2019, our society began to turn away from hyperconsumerism. Retailers in the Food & Drink industry have managed to benefit from this trend. Today, this sector offers a diverse range of local products with environmental credentials, something which is increasingly important to consumers. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has further accentuated this desire to buy local. Wellness, which has become a genuine mantra for society over the last few years and which is behind some consumer spending trends, is better addressed.

Towards the end of hyperconsumerism

2018 marked a real turning point in the growing demand for more sustainable consumption, which became increasingly widespread. France, Belgium, Luxembourg and many other European countries are witnessing these new consumer habits, which aren’t just restricted to food and drink. In addition to the traditional search for savings, the French, for example, have become aware that they can eat less to stay healthy and can limit waste to protect the planet. The hardest-hit sectors by the decrease in sales between 2018 and 2019 included make-up (-5%, with this drop becoming more pronounced during lockdown, before this trend reversed at the end of lockdown), alcohol (-6.4%), meat (-4%), frozen foods (-3.3%) and baby toiletries (-7.5%: this is the result of a growing interest in DIY toiletries and an increase in sales of washable and reusable products).

The pandemic has also encouraged consumers to turn to local food shops. While people in Belgium have spent less on holidays (-69%), children’s activities (-68%) and clothes and beauty (-61%), local specialist food shops – butcher’s shops, bakeries, greengrocers – have enjoy increased online payments (+14%) and increased consumer spending (+12%). In Belgium, studies show that the gradual end to lockdown has not led to a significant recovery in consumer spending.

The split between organic food and heavily discounted special offers

We can see that households which are more financially secure and conscious of environmental issues sometimes see consumer spending as an opportunity for activism. They want organic products, they’re against consumerism, they do their food shopping via applications like Yuka (in 2019, one in 5 French shoppers used at least one food or health and beauty application), they’re becoming flexitarians or even vegetarians.

There is a noticeable split between them and consumers on a lower income who have been affected directly by the pandemic and whose budgets are consequently more restricted. Even if they dream of spending “like other people”, they’re much more focused on special offers and are concerned about the end of the month. With declining spending power in both Belgium and France, the outlook for 2020 was less positive than 2019. The increase in unemployment meant that household spending had to be cut back; this situation has led Europeans to refocus on the essentials, although long queues were seen when brands such as Primark, Fnac and Action reopened after lockdown.

This dual trend in consumer spending will become more marked in the future. On the one hand, we are likely to see an increase in the number of clearance food & drink brands; on the other, restaurants like Le Sezono are opening in Paris, serving delicious and sustainable dishes made with organic, seasonal ingredients, bought directly from suppliers in the Île-de-France region. This duality will be played out between e-commerce and local shops in coming years.

In the end, although these lifestyles are noticeably different, they share a common denominator: making better choices when shopping.

Healthier, more environmentally friendly food

Less meat, more (local) vegetables, please. The food we cook has changed radically over the last few years. Vegetables have lost their reputation as a side dish and are now seen by some as the main attraction. As veganism has become more common in society, a vegetarian diet has become a part of everyday life for an increasing number of consumers. Restaurants don’t want to be left behind either and are adapting their classic dishes to the current vegetarian trend. Retailers have responded to this movement with entire aisles of products for these consumers who, until recently, were considered to be on the fringes of society.

With the food shopping budget under closer scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic, cooking at home has become more popular. 37% of French people said that they had prepared more home-cooked dishes in lockdown than usual.

When it comes to food shopping, any discussion of shoppers’ “respect” must make reference to farmers: the well-publicised difficulties they face have given them a prominent role. This has led to real optimism, with the emergence of short supply chains which were particularly popular during lockdown. Their objective? To reduce the distances between producers and consumers and to provide consumers with better quality at an affordable price which guarantees a better wage for farmers. Farmers’ markets, fruit and vegetable boxes and farm shops are just a few examples of an increasing number of initiatives which aim to make quality food less elitist.


Diversity on our plates

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 75% of our diet is composed of 5 animals and 12 plants (principally wheat, corn and rice). But there’s a trend towards diversification: we’re going to see new ingredients on our plates in the West!

In particular, Middle Eastern food has become increasingly popular: labneh, pomegranates, tahini and houmous all feature on consumers’ shopping lists. Why? Probably because vegetables have a starring role in this cuisine (as we can see with falafel, a beloved vegetarian dish which combines delicious flavours with fresh herbs). Nasturtiums, borage, roses: in 2020, we’ll also be eating flowers! Often packed with antioxidants and loved by professional chefs, these colourful products are a treat for the taste buds whether they’re enjoyed in their natural state, in teas or as a powder.

To drink or not to drink, that is the question

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of alcohol drinkers fell globally by 5%. It will take weeks or even months to understand the effects of lockdown on the health of Europe’s citizens, but initial studies show, for example, that overall alcohol consumption continued to drop during lockdown. According to a survey by Public Health France (Santé Publique France), just 11% of French people said that their alcohol consumption increased during lockdown (primarily people living in cities and parents of children under the age of 16). Two thirds of respondents (65%) thought that their alcohol consumption remained stable during lockdown and 24% thought that it decreased. In Belgium, a quarter of consumers significantly increased their consumption. However, alcohol consumption remained stable for nearly half of Belgian respondents and 29% said their consumption had decreased (primarily men and young people).

In any case, sobriety is even seen as a “lifestyle” by some millennials. Will younger generations bring about a reinvention of the drinks sector? Mocktails for some, sophisticated cocktails for others. The A-Z Cocktail, created by British entrepreneurs, is a perfect example of this: containing 26 ingredients, one for each letter of the alphabet, it is a complex yet perfectly balanced drink. We’re continually coming back to the same point!

Natural and organic wines are also leading to a shift in the alcohol sector, providing consumers with diverse, quality products. Craft beer is also performing well. In France and Belgium, beer bars are increasingly offering an impressive range of local and international beers. The same can be seen in supermarkets, where aisles of craft beers are better promoted. Cans are making a comeback too. With their artistic designs, these practical and recyclable containers are appealing to consumers once more.

The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced these findings: new consumer needs are emerging, from buying a diverse range of local products, driven by environmental concerns, to taking the time to get together and to share with family and friends and focusing on health and wellness. We are convinced that the retail sector is capable of meeting these needs.

Against a backdrop of an occasionally complicated social context and in view of the rapidly declining spending power of the middle class, it is important to understand these different consumer habits to develop new retail projects which reflect both consumer spending and consumer beliefs.


Have you got an idea for a business in the Food & Drink industry? Let’s take the time to discuss it.

Contact us!

Let's discuss your project together!

GeoConsulting is accredited within the framework of the “Growth” voucher scheme. As such, GeoConsulting can carry out diagnostic and support missions in business growth and development.

Wallonie & Bruxelles

Route d’Obourg 65B
7000 Mons
Tél : +32(0)65 68 09 70

Vlaanderen & Brussels

Louizalaan 523 Avenue Louise
1050 Brussels
Tél: +32 (0)2 315 09 00


Place Saint Hubert 12
59000 Lille
Tél: +33 (0)3 74 09 63 92


Rue Glesener 21
1631 Luxembourg
Tél: +352 27 86 68 14