SAUDI’S EATING BEHAVIORS DURING COVID19 PANDEMIC

Saudi’s Eating Behaviors During Covid-19 Pandemic

No doubt, eating habits around the world change from time to time! But the Corona virus precautionary measures almost immediately changed virtually everything, everyone, everywhere, most clearly and dramatically in those countries which legally banned social eating, so-called ‘going out to eat.’.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to do so, acting with foresight in terms of their precautions. Long story short, here in Saudi, we started to work from home immediately on mid-March. Shortly thereafter, there was partial curfew followed by complete curfew during April, with some few exceptions. I am writing this article exactly one day before we go back to partial curfew and gradually going back to our “NEW LIFE” end of May 2020.

Being part of all of this, was an experience that I cannot summarize in one word! But one thing for sure, it changed us all! Despite all the changes, I will focus on my area of expertise “FOOD”.

We Saudis became virtually connected more than ever. With the pandemic ‘gift’ of such unexpected, extra time at home, many people tried new activities, a popular and not unexpected being experimentation with foods. Everyone seemed to be experimenting with “preparing foods & drinks”. Many social platforms recorded highest usage in years. Not surprising, a closer look at the category explored most reveals that it was FOOD, FOOD, FOOD. The internet gave the stay-at-home Saudis virtually unlimited access to video recipes, food blogs, even ingredients to order online.

How did all of that affected Saudis “Eating Habits”?

I spoke to 50 people, who are couples or live with their family. This structure is the predominant one in Saudi. I spoke with males and females, young adults, around ages 25-38.  The data from these interviews allows me to present the findings in the form of a synthesized “Qualitative Chat”.

  1. Scheduled Eating Time:

Now that everyone working from home, no one has an excuse to miss the mealtime with the family. That lead to more family ‘quality- times’, encouraging families to prepare meals together

2. Meals No…Snacks YES:

The number of meals did not increase dramatically. But…, on the other hand …; snacks did! All kinds of snacks: homemade, on the shelf snacks, healthy, unhealthy. Mainly savory snacks, not the sweet ones. Many reported reducing their consumption of sweet of desserts and sweet snacks.  Main meal … 2 per day on average, snacks …  4-5.

3. Nothing is Impossible!

Saudis know all the secrets now! With all the experimentation have been going on at home, they discovered that they can make everything at home: bread, coffee, desserts, Chinese food, French bakery! This ‘discovery’ (there all along!)  will play an important role in the awareness in the future and the behavior towards take out & food delivery. Few reported two or more deliveries a day. Many reported one, or even no deliveries during the curfew time 

4. Body Changes:

Believe it or not! Many lost weight (an average of 2-3 kilograms). It is believed that the weight loss comes from the fewer calories in home-cooked meals compared to the calories in fast food and ready to eat foods. Some maintained their body exercise and lost even more than 3KGs. Very few gained weight, typically the older population who exercised less, and in fact had far less bodily activity. with less body activity

5. Buying Behavior

Saudis purchased more frequently than they did before. The one-shopping-trip per week appeared to be not frequent enough. The grocery shopping expedition increased from one to two, and often to three times. The sizes that were purchased increased as well, so the Saudis bought more, and more frequently. Groceries costed more, yet the absence of other opportunities to spend on food, especially restaurants and cafes, balanced that increase price of groceries. So, no budgeting issues seem to have emerged, or at least if they emerged, they were not deemed relevant.

6. Smarter restaurants

one of the popular trends by Shawerma House restaurant

Even though restaurants and cafes were negatively influenced by the pandemic, they did not stop inventing, even though forced to think “inside” the box – yes inside. The restaurant’s started their own trend, “Make at Home Boxes”. Simply all ingredients sent to you in a box, all you got to do is to prepare them yourself: Burgers, juices, coffees, doughnuts, barbecue. All hygienically packed and delivered to your door

7.    Make way for the Influencers

Our Homemade Maamoul contribution

An additional fact we can’t deny was the HUGE impact from social media influencers during this time. It was very telling to discover that ‘everyone’ seemed to be in sync with a trend, and preparing certain recipes at certain times, as if guided by a common ‘social spirit.’  Who sets the trend, who becomes the common social spirit? The answer soon became obvious: “Influencers”. These influences engaged their follower. Whatever the influencers requested, by posting the idea or even the recipe, the asked their followers to make and then they re-share their followers attempt. The influencers were most influential in driving certain preparation methods such as barbecuing & grilling. And, to add to their success, they were most influential driving the preparation of particular products such as, Lemon cake, sour dough, Arabic Bread, Dalgona Coffee, Eid Mamoul, Cheese platter, etc. 

Caricature about how all of Saudi prepared the same item

What’s next?

 Saudis will definitely be different consumers after this period of their lives! They learned too much in a very short time to hold on to their past habits. The pandemic changed them, forcing them to look around the world of food. The awareness is much higher about food quality and ingredients, and how easy many recipes are made. So, are Saudi going to be the same once everything is back in business? I don’t think so. Younger Saudis might go back to their old habits with no changes, but not the older ones, the ones who have discovered the joy of preparing their own food (captured in this article)

Food & drink producers must think deeply what to innovate next to satisfy these consumers. They will be very difficult to please. With the tax changes in Saudi plus now they know how cheap is to prepare a recipe, prices must be a point to consider as well. The “NEW NORMAL” in Saudi will not be the same. Your products should not be the same either. The opportunity is yours; the time is now to discover this NEW NORMAL for your products and food services.

References:

Very grateful for my overseas mentor Dr. Howard Moskowitz for reviewing this article. I would also like all of those who participated in the whatsapp Survey

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