How Did Consumer Behaviour Change Under the Pandemic? A Case Study for Latin America.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a massive impact globally, acting as catalyzer for many disruptive changes, across markets, categories, channels and in determining new trends.
Euromonitor has tracked how consumer behaviour has changed following the pandemic and how it has impacted purchases of consumer health products. Though much behaviour and trends that emerged during the pandemic proved near-universal in nature, some surprising outliers or unexpected outcomes can be found at the local level, sometimes determined by cultural habits, beliefs, or simply structural challenges.
One point worth highlighting for Latin America was the evolution of e-commerce. As expected, the channel saw an explosion during 2020 and into 2021, with a rise of e-commerce portals for the main chained pharmacies, the emergence of new businesses, and a jump in sales through WhatsApp for independent pharmacies to connect with the customer. Marketplaces, like Farmazon.cl, followed suit, allowing independent pharmacies the venue to collaborate and develop a more connected network.
However, the movement to e-commerce for consumer health purchases in Latin America is likely to be fleeting, especially in those markets with low internet penetration. Most current digital consumers in Latin America are likely to go back to pre-pandemic habits and buy consumer health products in-store, as the pharmacist is still perceived as the best and most widely available health advisor, especially as doctors’ appointments are expensive and out-of-reach for many consumers in the region. Recommendations through the internet about products for small illnesses aren’t widely trusted, limiting the spread of digital health options that have proliferated in other markets like the US.
A second effect of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour in Latin America was strong growth in the consumption of digestive remedies. When looking closer though, the drivers and logistics for this category in the region have responded to very local factors, such as cooking habits, tastes, and medical habits, that will make persistence of this trend difficult.
Peru saw demand for laxatives grow, as consumers relied heavily on the predominant street food culture for meals during COVID-19, as these on-the-go options continue to be as cheap as cooking from home and have benefitted from the fact that many Peruvians were not ready for the daily cooking regimen that drove meal choices during COVID-19 in other markets. As a result, during the strict lockdowns when even food delivery was banned, many Peruvians faced a difficult reality: “I don’t know how to cook”. Many consumers resorted to eating mostly potatoes with rice and very little fruit or vegetables. This, combined with a more sedentary way of life, has resulted in a boom in laxatives.
Colombia and Bolivia, on the other hand, gravitated to antacids. This was led by high rates of mental health issues such as stress and anxiety, which manifested in Colombia through an increase in consumption of coffee and carbonates, while in Bolivia, the fear of getting infected with COVID-19 led many consumers to resort to auto medication and compulsive medicine intake, with an excessive use of over-the-counter medications such as analgesics and cough and cold remedies.
Though rates of COVID-19 are still high, consumer behaviour has changed since the beginning of the pandemic, with some impacts already receding, or expected to last only while the pandemic persists, while other effects are expected to stay in the long term, affecting some categories in a more structural way.
It is no secret that cough and cold remedies have been dramatically affected by these behaviourial changes, but it remains to be seen which aspects of consumer behaviour will last in the region as vaccination rates improve.
Growth in cough/cold products is dependent upon consumer behaviour like social gatherings, which were heavily restricted during the pandemic. However, public transportation rates are starting to return to normal in some countries, like in Bolivia and Uruguay, while limitations of social gatherings and events closed or curtailed are expected to be relaxed in the short term, as the number of infections decreases and vaccination rates improve. These factors contributed to sales drops during 2020, improvements in 2021, and an expectation of a fuller recovery once restrictions are lifted in the region.
On the other hand, masking and hygiene habits should persist over the long term, with a negative impact on cough/cold products in markets like Bolivia and Ecuador. Meanwhile, the Argentinian and Uruguayan Governments are considering furthering limitations to social gathering into the near future.
Vaccination rates should ease COVID-19 restrictions and open more room for social gathering, in-person school attendance, and less strict hygiene measures, driving consumer needs towards a more pre-pandemic pattern, concentrating cough and cold sales to the winter.