With restaurants closing and options for eating out dwindling, demand for groceries is on the rise as consumers are forced to cook for themselves—and rush to stockpile in fear of food shortages.

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Grocery shopping—online and offline—has hit historic heights. Across the US, between March 12 and 15, online grocery orders were up by 150% compared to last year, data from Rakuten Intelligence shows, while grocery delivery app downloads are at record highs. Instacart downloads increased 215% between February 14 and March 15, spiking 50% alone in the weekend after coronavirus was officially designated a pandemic, while downloads for Walmart’s grocery app rose 45%, Apptopia data shows.

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In the UK, shopping trips spiked in the lead up to lockdown. British shoppers made over 79 million extra trips to the grocery store in the four weeks prior to March 21, spending an additional $2.4 billion (1.9 billion pounds) on groceries and driving a 43% rise in sales compared to last year, Nielsen data reveals.

Pandemic pantries

What are consumers buying during these many shopping trips and online orders? Primarily shelf-stable and long-lasting goods.

Americans are stocking up on staples like dried beans, sales of which rose 231% as of March 26 compared to last year; canned meat, up 188%; canned tuna, up 142%, and canned soup, up 127%, according to Nielsen. In the UK, sales of easy-to-make crowd-pleasing basics spiked as the nation prepared for quarantine: canned pasta sales rose by 226% in the four weeks leading up to March 21; noodle sales increased by 167%; and pot noodle snacks by 150%, Nielsen found.

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To left: Nom Wah's pan-fried chicken and cabbage dumplings. Top right: Pork and shrimp siu mai. Top images courtesy of An Rong Xu. Bottom: Pork soup dumpling, courtesy of Paul Wagtouicz.

Alongside dried and canned goods, consumers are filling their freezers. In the week ending March 21, frozen food sales in the UK rose by 84% compared to the same period last year. Restaurants and suppliers, meanwhile, are scrambling to cater to this shifting demand. Sysco, the largest food distributer in the US, recently announced that it would switch to selling frozen food in place of fresh meat and produce. In New York City, Eater reports that restaurants are starting to sell prepared frozen foods in bulk, including frozen dumplings from the iconic dim sum house Nom Wah, as well as family favorites like lasagna from I Trulli, sausage and bacon from The Meat Hook and freezer-ready meat and tomato sauces from Rezdôra.

Comfort is king

Sales also show that consumers are taking to the kitchen in search of comfort. While recent years have seen consumers adopting healthy eating habits with growing fervor, they’re now falling back on processed childhood favorites.

Conagra Brands—whose portfolio includes guilty pleasures like Slim Jim beef jerky, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and kitschy classic Chef Boyardee canned pasta—reported that, after a 5% decline in net sales at the end of February, shipments to retailers and in-store sales grew 50% in March. “People are having flashbacks to their childhood,” Conagra Brands CEO Sean Connolly said in a Mad Money interview.

The New York Times similarly reports that processed and junk foods are staging a cultural comeback as “shoppers, moved by nostalgia and hunting for longer shelf lives, are returning to old standbys like Chef Boyardee and Campbell’s soup.” Like Conagra, Campbell Soup Company’s sales are also spiking: in March, sales of Campbell’s soup reportedly rose 59% compared to last year, sales of its Prego pasta sauce increased 52%, and sales of its Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers grew nearly 23%.

At-home experts

For those seeking something more refined or looking to recreate restaurant favorites, chefs are stepping in to help.

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Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura hosts free cooking classes on Instagram

Acclaimed chefs are offering their expertise to the growing ranks of home cooks. On March 14, Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura launched free nightly cooking classes on Instagram, while Borough Market, the renowned produce market in London, began streaming cooking classes with top chefs on their newly created Facebook community page on March 20.

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Wagamama shares its katsu curry recipe. Courtesy of Instagram.

Popular eating destinations are helping diners make trademarked dishes to satisfy their cravings at home. Pret-A-Manger and DoubleTree by Hilton have released the “secret” recipes to their respective famous chocolate chip cookies; celebrated ramen chain Wagamama shared its katsu curry recipe; Disney Parks invites fans to “cook up the magic at home” with the recipe to their churro bites; and McDonald’s published the recipe for classic sausage-and-egg McMuffin.

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