Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
An empty restaurant in Tokyo’s shopping and amusement district of Ginza, which has been hit because of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus pandemic likely to permanently change dining habits of Asian consumers, Nielsen study says

  • Asian consumers are expected to eat less out and more at home as Covid-19 changes attitudes and behaviours of consumers, finds Nielsen study
  • Study finds 86 per cent of those polled in China plan to eat at home more often than before the outbreak, followed by 77 per cent in Hong Kong

Asian consumers are unlikely to go back to their old habits of frequently dining out, and will instead prefer takeaways and eating at home once life goes back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study.

“Consumer across Asia have signalled their eating habits may change permanently once the world moves beyond the impact of the novel coronavirus,” an online survey by market researcher Nielsen found. Over 6,000 respondents in 11 markets – China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – were polled between March 6 and 17.

In China, 86 per cent of those polled said they would eat at home more often than before the outbreak, followed by 77 per cent in Hong Kong. In South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam that number stood at 62 per cent.

The survey underscores the changing retail landscape, particularly for the food and drinks segment, as businesses grapple with the new normal of social distancing drilled into the public’s psyche to stem the spread of Covid-19. The highly contagious disease has affected over 1.2 million people across the globe and claimed at least 64,000 lives so far.

“The Covid-19 crisis has certainly changed attitudes and behaviours of consumers,” said Vaughan Ryan, managing director for Southeast Asia at Nielsen Connect.

“I don’t believe people will fully stop eating out of the home, but clearly the virus impact will last for quite some time and we do expect consumers to continue to eat ‘more’ at home for the foreseeable future.

“But whilst consumer behaviour across markets in the immediate terms has definitely changed, the subsequent question is ‘when will it return to normal?’ The answer may well be never.”

China’s deserted shops and restaurants show that even as lockdown ends, scars remain

The trend in many of the Asian markets that were included in the survey shows that sales of fast-moving consumer goods has on average risen by at least 20 per cent every week since the outbreak began spreading in late January.


Ryan said that this shows consumer behaviour has moved from “on-the-go lifestyle” to a more “safe in-home consumption” trend.

This growth in home cooking can be seen in the growing user base of Hong Kong-based DayDayCook. The multimedia cooking platform’s active monthly users in China grew by more than half in March from January, while community post users also grew at the same rate.

“Since the onset of Covid-19, there have been significant changes in the food shopping patterns of consumers across different regions,” said Norma Chu, founder of DayDayCook.

She noted that on Tmall consumers had drastically cut down buying of some non-essential foods, such as snacks, nuts and special regional foods, from 73.38 per cent to 21.98 per cent of their purchases. On the other hand, purchases of essential food items, such as noodles, rice, oils, Chinese dried goods and seasonings had increased significantly from 26.3 per cent before the outbreak to 67.69 per cent currently.

Deepika Chandrasekar, research analyst at Euromonitor International, said that in Singapore, restaurants were feeling the impact of the measures rolled out to contain the virus.


“It is likely that restaurants are seeing lower footfall while eating at home starts to increase,” she said, adding that even though online orders of food have been rising most of the city’s restaurants make their revenue from dine-ins.

Jack Chuang, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, said that as people start to increasingly dine at home, restaurants should rationalise their store portfolio.


His colleague Veronica Wang added that retailers should also rethink the role of their physical stores, and what the implications are in terms of the store location, format, offerings, and service.

“Social distancing will lead to new, innovative ways of consumer engagement, which I believe will stay as a trend even after Covid-19,” said Wang, adding that live streaming has played a bigger role in both engaging with consumers as well as selling products.

And although social distancing will become the new normal for the foreseeable future, dining and eating together are not entirely going to disappear.


“Dining and eating together serves to also provide social interactions,” said Tuan Phan, associate professor of marketing, innovation and information management at Hong Kong University.

Sign up now and get a 10% discount (original price US$400) off the China AI Report 2020 by SCMP Research. Learn about the AI ambitions of Alibaba, Baidu & through our in-depth case studies, and explore new applications of AI across industries. The report also includes exclusive access to webinars to interact with C-level executives from leading China AI companies (via live Q&A sessions). Offer valid until 31 May 2020.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Dining habits in Asia may change forever: survey