The Pudding Pack Index: A Grocery Barometer for Normalcy
Lately, there’s a lot of talk about “getting back to normal,” especially as vaccines roll out and more states open up, so we wondered — what does normal look like through the lens of grocery shopping? We’ve sure seen a lot of out-of-the-ordinary shopping behavior this past year from toilet paper hoarding and flour and yeast stockpiling, to all of the hand sanitizer and even birdseed spikes — all unmissable signs of fear, confusion, and lockdown life trends. The signs of increasing normalcy have been much more subtle, but after a bunch of digging, we zeroed in on the single strongest indicator in Instacart’s massive grocery catalog that America is on the move again and starting to feel more normal: the Pudding Pack Index.
What is the Pudding Pack Index?
It’s an index for normalcy through the lens of groceries. It turns out that a collection of quintessential kids’ lunchbox items like pudding packs, granola bars, and fruit snacks is the single strongest indicator in Instacart’s massive grocery catalog that America is on the move again. The most interesting thing about it is that no other categories of groceries have proven to be so closely tied to normalcy (we checked!). Here’s how it breaks down:
- April 2020: During the first full month of stay-at-home orders, sales for items in the index plunged 48% lower than pre-pandemic base levels.
- June 2020 – February 2021: Sales then climbed to 20% below the pre-pandemic baseline as families adjusted to new, albeit different, daily routines.
- March – April 2021: In early spring 2021, we noticed a significant bump in the index, which mirrors the growing availability of vaccines to US adults. As vaccines rolled out more and more broadly to the general population in March and April, we saw the index climb to the highest rate since the pandemic started.
- May 2021: Today, the index is just over 9% below the “normal” pre-pandemic rate.
But I’m not a parent!
The beauty of the Pudding Pack Index is that it’s not a measure of kids going back to school, it’s a barometer for everyone getting back to their normal lives. Even if you’re not a parent, if you’re at an age where you could be a parent, this index is likely a reflection of how “normal” your life is feeling at the moment. Why? Because shopping behaviors around kids’ snacks are some of the most stable and predictable that we see across all our grocery data — they’re not at the mercy of trends (hello, banana bread and sourdough) and therefore give us a wonderfully clear benchmark for “normal.”
“Parent or not — you should pay attention to the Pudding Pack Index,” says Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s Trends Expert and Senior Product Manager. “When parents are adding pudding packs to their cart, it means they’re also starting to head back to the office, drop their kids off at school, and take vacations. Parents represent a cross-section of American culture on every level and when life is normal for parents, it’s normal for almost everyone else, too.”
Why does the Pudding Pack Index matter?
The Pudding Pack Index is a barometer for normalcy through the lens of groceries, one of the most universal things in the world, and it signals when we might be feeling back to normal. As the index climbs up and to the right and eventually reaches the pre-pandemic ‘zero,’ we’re willing to bet that school plays, summer camps, concerts, weddings, gyms sessions, happy hours, and more will have made it back onto our calendars more regularly. And while these events may look a little different than they did in pre-pandemic life, they’ll certainly feel more normal.
Adjusting for Growth: We adjust Instacart growth percentages by the overall growth of total deliveries. Doing so removes the influence of our platform growth so we can focus on the change in consumer behavior.
Want a deeper look inside the digital aisles? Reach out to [email protected] for more data-based insights.
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