How times have changed, and so quickly, too. Nearly every trendwatcher predicted that 2020 was set to be another year for foodservice to outpace retail. But then, the coronavirus (COVID-19) hit.

“With restaurant closures and the looming ‘great lockdown recession,’ that will not occur this year,” Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader for IRI, told Baking & Snack recently.

For commercial bakers supplying the food industry, the competition between eating at home vs. eating out has new winners and losers with retail currently holding the upper hand. The International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey noted that almost half (49%) of consumers are at least somewhat concerned about the safety of food that was prepared outside their homes, such as takeout or delivery. Some 46% are concerned when they eat outside the home, such as in restaurants, followed by shopping for groceries online (42%), shopping for groceries in-store (36%) and preparing meals at home (30%).

Such concerns are reflected in sales data. Although several states have been easing restrictions on dining out and social distancing, studies show the consumption of many packaged foods remains well above (around 10% to 20% depending on the category) the same period a year ago. In some cases, it has recently been reaccelerating, especially in those states that have experienced a spike in COVID-19 infectious rates.

While this high-stakes battle between eating out and eating at home has serious consequences, it’s far from over. It’s just taken on new dimensions in recent months, and bakers must be prepared to pivot to changing market realities.