Have you ever had an overly-friendly, overly-perceptive cashier who inquires about your plans based on your purchases? “I see you have chips, soda, paper plates… so, having a cookout this weekend, huh?”

Well, your cashier isn’t the only one who can tell a lot about you based on what you buy. After a year in which so many of our regular shopping habits changed, one company that’s analyzed billions of purchases can tell a lot about all of us, and how our shopping habits are starting to return to normal.

Catalina, the company best known for providing checkout coupons tailored to your purchase history, has analyzed a year’s worth of purchase history from shoppers across the country to see what grocery shopping is like today, as compared to a year ago. And they didn’t have to survey shoppers to find out that we’re feeling more confident and ready to return to normal – they can conclude that simply based on what we’re buying.

Sales of Chinet plastic utensils are up 39% from the same time last year, for example, and sales of Dixie paper cups are up 36%. What does that signify? “Increasingly people are beginning to gather again in backyards and parks,” Catalina concludes. Sales of fresh meat and poultry are declining – which means more of us are eating out again, Catalina says. And with sales of products like Smartwater up 64%, and Osteo Bi-Flex joint relief product sales up 4%, Catalina concludes that more of us are beginning to head back to the office and the gym again.

And with more of us venturing out now, we’re apparently once again paying more attention to our appearance. Catalina found that sales of Maybelline lipstick have surged by 66%, Downy clothing wrinkle reducers by 48%, and Tic Tac breath fresheners by 51%.


When it comes to food, it’s a mixed bag. Many of us expressed a renewed interest in cooking at home during the pandemic, and for many of us, that interest appears to be lasting – depending on your definition of “cooking”. Catalina found that sales of refrigerated meal starters like Giovanni Rana were up a notable 105%. But sales of individual ingredients like dried pasta, rice, canned beans and cooking oil are all down 20% or more.

“There’s no doubt the pandemic continues to have a dramatic impact on shopping behavior,” Catalina Chief Marketing Officer Marta Cyhan said in a statement, touting the company’s ability to provide manufacturers and retailers with “insights into what people are now buying – and why.”

And it’s not just what we’re buying, and why we’re buying it – but how often, and how much, we’re buying when we do shop. Back in March of last year, the number of grocery shopping trips per person plummeted, while the amount of money spent and items purchased per shopping trip soared. Makes sense, since we were all trying to stock up and minimize our outings while sheltering at home.

But Catalina says that’s beginning to change. In May 2021, the total number of individual shopping trips was up 9% from the same time last year, while spending was down 3% and the number of items purchased per trip was down 12%.

So while our shopping habits may be getting back to normal as compared to May 2020, we’re not quite back to May 2019 levels yet. But we’re getting there. All we need now is for coupons and promotions to keep pace – once we can buy more while spending less, you’ll know that life, and grocery shopping, are truly back to normal once again.

Image source: JeepersMedia

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