Food and Beverage Ecommerce Sales Continue to Rise, but Shoppers Still Wary of Certain Categories

Food and beverage is the fastest-growing segment of the US ecommerce industry, but consumers are still reluctant to purchase key categories—including fresh and frozen foods—online.

We forecast that retail ecommerce sales of food and beverage products in the US will surpass $22 billion this year, growing more than 20% annually through 2021. While this emerging segment of ecommerce has a long way to go before generating the sales figures of established categories like apparel and consumer electronics, it’s growing significantly faster than any other ecommerce product category tracked by eMarketer.

Despite the substantial growth of this sector, consumers are still less likely to purchase food and beverage products than other digital grocery items. According to an August 2018 survey conducted by retail technology platform Inmar, 51.4% of female digital grocery shoppers purchased food and beverage items online in the three months prior to polling, compared with 74.1% who had purchased non-food items like personal care and household supplies. Among male digital shoppers, 47.2% had purchased food and beverage products, while 79.3% said the same about non-food items.

The Inmar study also found that the majority of digital grocery shoppers (e.g., those who shopped for groceries online in the past three months) refrained from regularly purchasing many common food items online.

When asked about the products they typically purchase but would never or rarely buy online, 66.5% of females and 64.0% of males said they refrained from buying meat and/or seafood purchases digitally. The findings were similar for produce (62.5% of females and 60.9% of males) and deli or bakery items (53.9% and 51.4%, respectively). More than half of total digital shoppers were reluctant to purchase frozen foods, dairy and other refrigerated items, including 54.0% of females and 51.2% of males.

So what food and beverage products are consumers buying online? Mostly packaged goods and pantry items, according to an April 2019 survey from Bizrate Insights and eMarketer. More than half of US digital food shoppers who had purchased food and beverages online in the past month said they bought packaged snack foods like chips, cookies and candy in the past month. And more than one-third purchased dry/baking goods like cereal, flour and pasta.

The survey, which was conducted among a smaller subset of digital food buyers compared with the larger base of digital grocery shoppers in the Inmar survey, still found relatively low purchase rates for frozen and perishable categories. Products like fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and baked goods, eggs and dairy, meat, poultry and seafood were purchased by fewer than one-quarter of digital food buyers.

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