The COVID-19 pandemic changed many consumer behaviors, and perhaps one of the most striking is the turn toward online grocery shopping.
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Prior to 2020, less than 20% of shoppers were buying groceries online. During the pandemic, those numbers rose to 70%, and today, more than 60% of U.S. customers still do at least some grocery shopping online.

Those numbers come from Martha Kemper, the vice president of dairy experience-demand for Midwest Dairy. Midwest Dairy represents 7,000 dairy families across the Midwest and, utilizing dairy checkoff dollars, the organization works with retailers and consumers to help promote dairy products and expand sales.

“E-commerce has gained in popularity since the pandemic,” said Kemper. “It is now part of regular shopping behavior.” The dairy industry should be excited about this growth in online grocery shopping, as dairy is the second largest category of grocery purchases following dry grocery goods.

Retailers also appreciate these dairy sales, as the value of consumer’s online grocery baskets are higher when dairy is in it. Kemper shared that grocery baskets are 75% greater in value when dairy is in the basket and contain 83% more units compared to baskets without dairy.

“Retailers are interested in these dollars,” Kemper noted.

She emphasized the importance of being top of mind for consumers. “That’s because people are creatures of habits,” she said. It is critical that dairy is placed on an online shopper’s preliminary list, because once it is in their basket, they are more likely to buy it again on future shopping trips.

“This creates a cycle of buy, use, and repeat,” she said.

Another key is that we want people to not only buy dairy products, but we also want people to use them. One way grocery stores and organizations such as Midwest Dairy can encourage purchases and then usage is to provide coupons for dairy products and dairy-focused recipes to customers. These can be made available online during the shopping experience, helping recruit customers to make more dairy purchases, a win for farmers and retailers.

Kemper said she is excited as to what the future of e-commerce will bring for dairy products. “This way of shopping is not going away,” she said. “Customers have demonstrated they like this retail option, and it will continue to grow.”

Globally, consumers can’t get enough of the quality and taste of American dairy products. Foreign exports of American dairy are twice the volume of the nation’s domestic dairy consumption. Last year, about 18% of U.S. dairy production was exported, and economists forecast that percentage to grow more than 25% in 2023.

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