BATON ROUGE, La. (BR Proud) — No one could have predicted the way 2020 played out. One of the most far reaching impacts of the pandemic was how consumer habits toward eating and purchasing food changed. Demand for restaurant-quality food spiked after businesses experienced waves of lockdown measures and those trends are expected to last through 2021, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC).
People also turned to comfort foods like sweets and items that are premade and easily reheated. Local restauranteur and chef Don Bergeron experienced firsthand how customer demand shifted. “Since Covid came around, it really almost doubled our business as far as our take-and-bake items and prepared foods,” Bergeron said. “People are (also) eating twice the amount of desserts.”
As the owner of Bergeron’s City Market, 8200 Jefferson Hwy, Bergeron was quick to adapt his business model during lockdown, originally providing only to-go options from the prepared foods line. As state and local measures loosened, the retail shop reopened and in turn, helped account for an $800,000 annual loss in catering business. “Catering is pretty much non-existent since all the restrictions, so our retail shop has really helped save our business,” Bergeron said.
Until everyone is vaccinated, consumers continue looking for opportunities to bring the dining experience into their home. “A lot of elderly people can’t get out — won’t get out, so people are bringing them food,” Bergeron said. “People may not want to go to the grocery store.”
At the same time, cooking fatigue has taken over in 2021 and consumers are looking for a balance between convenience and budget-friendly options. Bergeron said the new trend works in his favor. “You can’t go to the store and buy all the ingredients and make it for what you can get from a chef and you don’t have to clean the kitchen,” Bergeron said.
One of Bergeron’s City Market’s top sellers is a line of local jams and jellies made by Bergeron himself. “Our most popular one is figs. Figs preserves and these come from McComb, Mississippi,” Bergeron said. The chef recognized a shortage early on in the pandemic. “I’ve had some trouble getting jars.”
Production of jams and jellies picks up during Mardi Gras season when Bergeron makes his artisan king cakes. Flavors include a pepper jelly with cream cheese, strawberry and triple berry to name a few.
Nearly one in five restaurants have closed permanently due to the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. That percentage amounts to more than 110,000 service-industry businesses across the country. The devastation of small businesses is too great to measure at this moment however, as Amar Bhide, professor of business at Columbia University wrote, these changes can provide a powerful stimulus for entrepreneurship.