• Chris Posner, CEC

Front & Center

The past 10+ weeks have been anything but normal. Our homes have become our offices, our classrooms, our gyms, and our restaurants. Many of us are shopping in our regular supermarkets, albeit with masks on, but our shopping habits are not our regular ones. Over the past 10+ years grocery stores have seen a major shift in shoppers gravitating to the perimeter of the store- fresh prepared foods, produce aisles, and bakeries- and a purposeful avoidance of center of the store- processed and shelf stable foods, boxed cereals, sugary drinks, and dry goods. Well, all it took was a little global pandemic to change consumer behavior and re-introduce the center of the store as alive and well.

Whether this behavior continues as lockdowns ease around the country is TBD, but in the meantime, lets look at what people are buying.

Canned soup had a resurgence which not only drove shares of Campbell Soup Co. up, but also but also reminded people that canned soup is not all that bad, and in fact it can be mm, mm, good!

Canned beans also had some gas. Chickpeas were highly coveted, as were black beans and white beans, but sadly kidney beans were left behind.

Carbs are back! In the early part of lockdowns, dry pasta shelves were empty, all shapes and sizes, except whole wheat offerings and chickpea-based pastas, proving if you are going to eat pasta you want what Nonna cooked.

Perhaps the most surprising center of store blitz was on flour and yeast. In a climate where carbs are evil and gluten is the enemy, why the newfound interest in baking bread at home? As we’ve seen with other traumatic events in recent history, such as 9/11 and the ’08 recession, people tend to revert to comfort food. And what’s more comforting and primal than bread. In addition to flour and yeast, one of the requirements for making bread is time…and boy did people have a lot of time these past couple of months. In the beginning, social media was blowing up with baguettes, artisan loaves, and even bagels. But as the national yeast supply disappeared from store shelves, people welcomed a new addition to their homes- sourdough starter! Like a new puppy, sourdough starter needs to be cared for, loved, and fed daily.

By “simply” combining flour and water and letting natural bacteria and wild yeasts in the air do their thing, you can be well on your way to your first, fresh baked, warm loaf of sourdough bread. There are, of course, many other factors in making a great sourdough, including time, patience, and a little love. Now, don’t misunderstand me- sourdough, as with most baking, is very much a science, and a bit more precise than simply mixing flour and water- but those are the basics. Which is what comfort food is all about, isn’t it?