U.S. household food acquisition behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic upended how many Americans acquire foods. In this paper, we analyze eight food acquisition activities at different points in the pandemic, which allows us to evaluate how food acquisition changed as case rates changed and vaccine rollouts occurred. We collected data from three nationally representative online samples in September 2020, December 2020, and March 2021. We evaluate changes across time and across demographics using a multivariate probit model. Across time, we find that in-person grocery shopping remained extremely common (over 90%) throughout the pandemic. Food acquisition activities with less in-person contact (e.g., ordering from a meal kit service, online grocery shopping) peaked in December 2020, likely due to the surge in cases during that period. Ordering take-out from a restaurant remained common throughout the pandemic, but indoor dining increased significantly in March 2021 when vaccines were becoming more widely available. Food acquisition activities also varied across consumer groups, particularly indoor and outdoor restaurant dining. Overall our results offer evidence that in-person grocery shopping is a staple food acquisition activity that is unlikely to be changed; however, there is a segment of consumers who complement their in-person grocery shopping with online grocery shopping options. Further, relative to grocery stores, restaurants may be more vulnerable to surges in COVID-19 case rates. We conclude with implications for grocery retailers and restaurants as they continue to navigate operational challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0271522
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 14 2022


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Food
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Meals
  • Pandemics
  • Restaurants
  • United States/epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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