Editor’s pickCOVID-19 changing consumer behaviour in Asia


Research by Symrise indicates that consumers are adapting their food buying habits to meet the changing rules and requirements in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also suggests that several new behaviours may continue with restrictions being lifted further. Symrise monitored Asian markets like China and South Korea, the first two counties existing the first acute COVID-19 wave, focusing on the ways consumers order, prepare and consume food during lockdown, and how their habits evolve afterwards.

Symrise consistently “decodes” market trends, collecting, connecting and analysing the various data points to build relevant and impactful insights. With Asia leading the COVID-19 curve, the taste specialists have examined and evaluated the most affected markets in China and South Korea. They have looked into how the current pandemic has influenced consumer behaviour and what this might have the potential to stay – either for a while or longer. Together with its food and beverage customers, Symrise is translating these “decoded insights” into market relevant solutions. The findings show a clear trend towards takeaway, online grocery shopping, home-cooking and a focus on transparency.

Take-way grows in popularity, with group orders also on the increase. After lockdown, 24% of Chinese consumers and 37% of South Korean consumers bought takeaway food “more often”, according to a Nielsen data. In China, according to GlobalData, since restrictions were lifted in March, although people have been returning to restaurants, 25% of the respondents said they did not visit restaurants during that week. Chinese food delivery app Meituan reported a 31% increase in orders for more than one person during restrictions, with a jump of 70% in orders for five or more people.

Trends present ongoing opportunities for food companies
Nielsen data suggested that this trend towards home delivery will continue after lockdown, with 37% of Chinese consumers and 42% of South Korean consumers indicating that they would order food deliveries “more frequently”. In response to this, forward-thinking restaurants are setting up or changing to food delivery systems as a revenue stream. This is, in turn, fuelling potential growth in new entrants to this sector of the market.

Next to an increase in online shopping, takeout dining and home food delivery, Symrise also monitored home food preparation and consumption habits. They share these with its customers in joint development projects to design and deliver products in line with emerging consumer needs and habits.

Symrise meat, onion, vanilla and taste balancing core taste competencies, for example, support its customers in accelerating launches to provide variety to consumers in their home cooking. Hereby sensory insights generated by Symrise creates “authentic and impactful” tastes in customer products. These can help to create a dining experience at home, while consumers regain confidence in cooking and explore new recipes. Data suggests that young consumers continue to share their food experiences online even under these changed circumstances. Symrise supports food and beverage customers aiming to provide great tasting and at the same time visually appealing, instagrammable food with its evocore encapsulation technology.

Lionel Flutto, president, flavour, Asia-Pacific, Symrise, said, “Helping our partners in the food and beverage industry to understand what is happening in their markets is deeply rooted in our DNA. Decoding key impactful insights and co-designing flavour solutions with our customers in a structured approach aims at delivering market relevant products.”

New behaviours have been observed across different age demographics, with older generations in China also showing a likelihood to shift their regular shopping activities away from the traditional wet markets and local retailers. This was endorsed by figures from Meituan, which reported that more than two-thirds of its new users in the second half of February were over 40 years old.

Online shopping has seen a particular surge in popularity in South Korea with 41% increase. Figures also suggest this behaviour applies to general food shopping as well as takeaway meals in China, with 89% saying they will be “more willing” to buy daily necessities and fresh produce online post pandemic.

Online food buyers still look for healthy food and local businesses they can trust
Safety, convenience and necessity have been relevant to growth in online shopping during lockdown, while familiarity and transparency are still important factors in consumer decision-making. 84% of Chinese consumers say they perceive local products and businesses to be more trustworthy, with a deepening trust for locally-sourced and produced food across all markets, based on a GlobalData survey.

The relevance of good food to enhance immunity and maximise well-being is also an important factor in purchasing decisions going forward, with 80% of Chinese consumers indicating they would pay attention to healthy eating even after the pandemic is over, Nielsen stated.

Regine Lueghausen, vice-president, global marketing flavour, Symrise, concluded: “Thanks to our thorough consumer insights approach, we have collected comprehensive global and local market knowledge. By continually researching consumer behaviour, we can help our customers’ businesses create the products that consumers love, for instance, with our code of nature that addresses the trend towards naturalness among consumers around the globe.

“It will also be interesting to see how other regions evolve the movement the situation improves there as well. At Symrise, we are following the situation closely and are ready to share our decoded trends, insights and tailored product concepts with our customers soon after.”