Changing consumption patterns during lockdown: from the restaurant to the home

During the months of lockdown there was a radical change in food consumption patterns in Spain. Using internal data on spending with Spanish and foreign cards via CaixaBank POS terminals, we can see that expenditure in supermarkets and large food stores picked up noticeably during the state of emergency. Online shopping also increased, partly to minimise travel and contact between people, whereas consumption in restaurants plummeted. Despite the fact that, during the summer, household expenditure on restaurants picked up strongly, the slump in foreign tourism continues to be particularly detrimental to establishments geared towards international clients.

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Food consumption and COVID-19: a watershed

Before the coronavirus crisis, Spanish households used to consume a significant part of their food outside the home. Specifically, 36.5% of food expenditure in 2019 (8.6% of total household expenditure, equivalent to 48.5 billion euros) was spent outside the home.1The arrival of the coronavirus and strict measures restricting mobility to stop it from spreading radically changed families' consumption patterns; they stopped frequenting restaurants and other catering establishments to consume food almost exclusively in their homes.  

  • 1. In 2019, expenditure on food and beverages in the home totalled approximately 84 billion euros, or 14.9% of total household expenditure. Data from the National Statistics Institute's household budget survey.

Household expenditure on food in the home and at food service establishments

Share of total household expenditure (%)

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Share of total food expenditure (%)

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During lockdown, food consumption in the home rocketed

while restaurant spending plummeted. The entire food chain had to adapt quickly to the changes in household consumption patterns.

According to data on payment card activity via CaixaBank POS terminals, during the state of emergency spending on supermarkets and large food stores grew by nearly 50% year-on-year. The week of 9-15 March saw a 90% increase; i.e. card purchases almost doubled compared to the same week last year, mainly due to the stockpiling of food by many households and, to a lesser extent, the increased use of cards instead of cash as a means of payment. The pandemic tested the food chain's resilience and ability to adapt to a surge in demand, the greatest stress it has been put under in recent history. In hindsight, it is only fair to acknowledge the excellent response by the entire sector in meeting this challenge and securing food supplies for the entire population at all times.

Consumption at CaixaBank POS terminals

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Food consumption in the «new normal»

From July onwards, with the relaxation of lockdown measures, a gradual slowdown in food expenditure began to be observed. However, demand is still unusually high: at the end of September, card expenditure on food was still 20% higher than the previous year, showing that the health crisis is still affecting household consumption patterns.

Online shopping recorded a remarkable increase during the lockdown.

Here, too, companies showed themselves to be highly flexible and adaptable in responding to new consumer needs.

Although all food product distribution channels have seen their sales increase, the rise in online shopping was particularly notable. Although the sector was not always able to respond to the peak demand via this channel during the first weeks of the state of emergency, after a short time many companies had already expanded their logistics capacity and workforce to meet consumers' new needs. Specifically, payments via CaixaBank virtual POS terminals recorded a considerable upturn in online shopping from the second half of April and growth rates are still strong, close to 60%. As a result, the market share of e-commerce has increased significantly: from 1.6% in 2019 to 2.4% between 9 March and 6 June 2020, according to data published by the Ministry of Agriculture.2 

  • 2. See the introduction to the «Informe del consumo alimentario en España 2019» by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in which some data for 2020 have been advanced:

Food expenditure via card: face-to-face and online

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Another interesting figure that allows us to assess the degree of penetration of online food purchases comes from the CIS barometer which, in May, included several questions on consumption habits and trends during lockdown. The barometer revealed that 20% of respondents had purchased food products via online channels during lockdown, a percentage very similar to those who had purchased computers and IT equipment and only exceeded by purchases of clothing, fashion and footwear (27.7% of respondents). This survey also revealed that 67% of respondents made face-to-face purchases less frequently and that 19% preferred neighbourhood and local stores (compared to 12% before the state of emergency).

The agrifood sector has been affected by the crisis via the hotel and catering industry,

selectively damaging some sub-products that depend on the food service industry for their final consumption.

The drop in consumption in hotels, restaurants and cafés

The agrifood sector, however, has also suffered from the crisis. Shutting down the Spanish economy to stop the spread of the pandemic significantly affected the hotel and catering industry, which accounts for a third of the industry's total turnover, especially affecting those sub-sectors whose production is almost entirely aimed at this channel.

As can be seen in the chart above on CaixaBank POS terminal activity, spending on food service establishments plummeted with the onset of the state of emergency, posting falls of over 90% between the second half of March and the end of April. In May, food service expenditure using Spanish cards began to recover relatively quickly, picking up considerably in the summer months.

Expenditure on food service during the summer months by municipality

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However, foreign card spending on food service has suffered a severe blow and has yet to show signs of recovery. While there was some improvement in July and August (–60% year-on-year compared with falls of over 90% during the state of emergency), in September the drop was once again severe (–80% year-on-year). The maps above show the trend in expenditure on food service in July and August 2020 compared with the same period in 2019 at a municipal level. The predominant colour on each map is evident: green in the map on the left, corresponding to Spanish cards and indicating positive year-on-year growth in most municipalities; and red in the map on the right, reflecting the decrease in foreign card expenditure on food service this summer. The islands and the Mediterranean basin have been hardest hit because of their greater dependence on tourism.

The food service sector and its dependence on tourism

The food service sector is certainly very dependent on tourism. According to CaixaBank's own data, 21% of card expenditure on bars and restaurants in 2019 was made with foreign cards (see the table below), a percentage that rises to 37% for gastronomic restaurants. In addition, 15% of expenditure was made with Spanish cards from a province other than the one in which the establishment is located (an indication of dependence on domestic tourism).3 In the case of gastronomic restaurants, almost half their turnover depends on domestic and foreign tourism. Moreover, in many cases these are highly seasonal businesses that have been hugely affected by the collapse of international tourism during the summer. In July and August, foreign tourist arrivals in Spain totalled fewer than 5 million compared with 20 million in 2019 (–75% year-on-year).

  • 3. Specifically, for each card the sum of expenditure at POS in each Spanish province is calculated for the whole of 2019. The residence of the card is assigned to the province with the greatest expenditure.

The food service sector is highly dependent on tourism

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The collapse of international tourism has significant implications for the demand of food products. According to an analysis of the input-output tables, for every euro of turnover in accommodation and food services, 30 cents are demanded from the agrifood sector.4 In other words, any shock to tourism is passed on through the food chain to those who supply food to these restaurants, products that are less frequently consumed at home and therefore face significant difficulties in finding an alternative market.

Among the products most affected at the beginning of the lockdown were lamb and goat meat, sheep and goat's milk, fresh fish and wine, among others. In response to this situation, some small producers formed alliances to develop online distribution channels and promote local sales, revealing a great capacity to adapt to an exceptional situation. Even the Minister of Agriculture himself, at the beginning of the state of emergency, called on households to consume products that had particularly suffered from the closure of the food service business.

Recent developments in the pandemic in Spain does not allow us to be too optimistic about international tourism's prospects for recovery in the short term. Until there is an effective vaccine or treatment against COVID-19, tourist numbers are likely to remain very low. However, once we have overcome the pandemic, the excellent position enjoyed by Spain's tourism industry before the crisis suggests it will recover strongly in the medium term.7

  • 4. See «Evolución reciente y perspectivas para el sector turístico español e implicaciones para el conjunto de la economía», Bank of Spain, Annual Report (2019).
  • 7. See the article «The tourism industry in the face of COVID-19: an unprecedented impact", published in the Tourism Sector Report of July 2020.