National Consumer Research Instructive Beyond Food And Restaurants

Results signal importance of focusing on consumer values and concerns
By Hinda Mitchell

What will expectations of consumers be as restrictions lift? Where will consumers draw the line on health and safety precautions in grocery stores and restaurants? Inspire PR Group in April partnered with Illuminology, a full-service consumer research firm, to conduct national and Ohio over-sampled research to get these answers.

Eating 2020: How COVID-19 Will Change Consumer Engagement With Food, explored consumer behaviors in two food industries – restaurants and grocery stores – to evaluate how patterns for dining and shopping evolved from pre-COVID-19 activity to what is projected as stay-at-home restrictions lift. The survey included more than 1,300 consumers nationwide, as well as an additional 500 Ohioans.

Key results indicate that health and safety will remain a top concern for consumers once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. The vast majority of those surveyed want grocery stores and restaurants to have employees wear face masks and encourage social distancing. When presented with all safety options, shoppers and diners are most concerned about the perceived health threat posed by other customers, more so than employees.

Of interest, although consumer behaviors between the Ohio and national research draw many similarities, one significant finding is that Ohioans are statistically less likely to be extremely or very worried about getting sick from COVID-19 compared to the nation. This likely is attributable to the early actions of Governor Mike DeWine, as well as the continued communication and demonstrated impact of “flattening the state’s curve.” People in Ohio have more reason to be confident in prevention measures perhaps than those in other states.

Clearly defined protocols around how businesses will keep their customers safe – mostly from other customers – will be critical to restoring trust and confidence. The survey revealed continuing worry about the economic picture – and messages that highlight affordability and value will resonate with financially wary consumers.

The findings contribute to data suggesting that both restaurants and groceries should prepare to meet consumer expectations for health and safety for some time to come.

Among the specific consumer concerns and likely changes in the grocery sector are:

  • Continued “stockpiling” of nonperishable foods and household supplies;
  • Strong favorability for customers in grocery stores wearing masks and for grocery stores to limit the numbers of customers in stores; and
  • Decreases or flattening of online grocery shopping after restrictions are lifted.

Restaurant findings mirror some of the grocery behaviors and include:

  • Significant concern (37%) among diners about getting exposed to the virus from other restaurant guests;
  • Decreases in carryout and food delivery after restrictions are lifted; and
  • A return, but at reduced levels, to in-restaurant dining.

While the findings are focused on the food sector, the data signal likely trends that extend beyond food into other consumer service and public-facing businesses. It is reasonable to assume that concerns about exposure to COVID-19 from other consumers in places where many gather will remain heightened, and that smart businesses will have plans in place to clearly articulate – and demonstrate – their commitment to the health and safety of others.

For communicators – a lesson is this:  Understand that consumers remain focused on health and safety – and while they believe businesses will do what is needed to keep them safe, they are less confident in the commitment of other consumers to take precautionary measures. Strong messages that focus on values, on caring for others and on businesses’ responsibility to do what is right should resonate for some time to come.

Hinda Mitchell is the founder of Inspire PR Group, a full-service public relations and digital firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 25 years of experience guiding c-suite leaders in diverse business sectors, Hinda is a sought-after expert in crisis management and response, executive counsel and communications strategy. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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A Statement from PRSA East Central District and Central Ohio PRSA

Statement on Racism from the PRSA East Central District
The Public Relations Society of America East Central District* is appalled by the events leading to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other members of our Black community. 

We condemn all acts of racism. We dedicate ourselves as communicators to stand in solidarity with our Black members, Black colleagues, Black students, and the Black community at large to promote the principles of equality.

We pledge our support to convene people for solutions and to listen in order to empower change in our communities. Furthermore, we resolve to do our best as advocates to bring truth to power, act always with justice, and to commit ourselves to an essential role in resolving systemic racism.

Central Ohio PRSA is a member of the PRSA East Central District.

Central Ohio PRSA President’s Message
Central Ohio PRSA stands with our colleagues in the East Central District on the important matter of racism.

I am proud of our chapter's commitment to diversity and inclusion through the leadership of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, under the leadership of Chair Shanikka Flinn, committee members Gayle Saunders, APR, Jaron Terry, APR,  Fellow PRSA, Josh Hartley and Mackenzie Betts and Board liaison Wendy Schwantes, APR. This committee works to promote diversity and inclusion in the PR profession, support PR professionals from diverse backgrounds, and educate our members through timely, relevant content and educational programs. This year, our PRisms and Diversity and Inclusion Committees took steps to recognize the individuals and organizations that are leaders in this area by establishing diversity and inclusion criteria for our PRism Awards, along with a specific award recognizing this important initiative.

Our chapter believes every person is deserving of equal respect and dignity, and this is a strategic initiative we must keep at the forefront. That’s why our 2019 to 2021 Strategic Plan identifies specific goals related to diversity and inclusion. They include to:

  • Facilitate a culture of inclusion within our chapter;
  • Implement programs with topics related to diversity and inclusion that feature speakers representing diverse backgrounds;
  • Have a representative of the diversity and inclusion committee sit on various committees to allow for cross representation;
  • Actively invite interested members of all backgrounds to join committees and serve in leadership roles;
  • Develop and implement a plan, criteria and expectations that would create a path to elevate diverse members from committee membership, chair roles and board roles. 

We know we can always do more. And, we need your help. We appreciate the voices of all our members in making sure we can continue to empower change through effective programming and dialogue. Please join us in sharing your voice - share your feedback on how we can be more inclusive. Help lead the chapter by serving on a committee or through volunteer work. We can all play a role in moving the needle forward and making progress together.

I am happy to help answer any questions you have.

Katie Thomas, APR
President, Central Ohio PRSA 

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