During a pandemic, risk and uncertainty are the most important factors affecting consumer behavior. Near Eastern marketplaces are undergoing dramatic change during the COVID-19 global pandemic. As a result, this paper aims to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on food shopping habits in four countries of the Near East sub-region, namely, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Oman and Qatar.
The research is based on an online survey conducted on 1,456 subjects using a snowball sampling technique. The questionnaire consisted of 24 different questions (multiple-choice, one option) regarding the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on food habits such as food shopping, preparation, eating and food waste.
The findings show that consumers’ shopping habits and food sourcing in the region changed due to the risk and uncertainty connected with the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, respondents decreased their shopping frequency and, as a result, increased the amount of food purchased each trip. Secondly, because of food safety concerns, respondents boosted their purchases of local products. Thirdly, the data revealed an increase in online food shopping, mainly in high-income countries, namely, Qatar and Oman. Fourthly, the findings revealed significant disparities in food stockpiling behavior across the countries investigated.
The major limitation of this study is the survey bias. The survey respondents were randomly hired. The questionnaire was completed by volunteers who were not rewarded. Only those motivated by a personal interest in the topic took part in the study. The sample had a high number of educated individuals, which does not represent the overall populations of the studied countries. In this case, generalizing the findings is inaccurate. A segment of the population with lower accessibility, such as individuals who are not web-literate, as well as the elderly, poor households and informal workers, especially in the Near East and North African (NENA) region, is often underrepresented in online surveys.
The findings provide insight into how consumers’ food shopping habits have changed due to the pandemic. This and other research will help governments and other organizations better prepare for future disasters and pandemics. The study’s results will also be useful in formulating evidence-based policies for the four countries studied and the NENA area as a whole throughout the post-pandemic recovery phase. The findings, for example, emphasized the necessity of encouraging online shopping by upgrading information and communication technology infrastructure and internet speed, particularly in middle-income and developing countries like Lebanon. Furthermore, in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, the findings provide insights to international organizations (both humanitarian and development ones) to pay more attention to issues of food and nutrition security to avoid the financial and political crises combined with the COVID-19 health crisis, become a humanitarian crisis for locals as well as the hundreds of thousands of refugees (primarily Syrians in Lebanon). Finally, the pandemic’s long-term impact on food activities and food security must be mitigated by including agricultural and food systems in recovery efforts. Several issues are posing a threat to food systems. Addressing them successfully involves developing cross-disciplinary research that innovates at their intersections to provide different solutions that address the social, economic, technological and policy components of these issues.
The paper’s findings indicate that the pandemic’s consequences will most certainly differ from country to country, based not just on the epidemiologic condition but also, inter alia, on the level of pre-COVID socioeconomic development.
Conflict of interest: The authors declare that the research was conducted without any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
Author contributions: Conceptualization, T.B.H., H.E.B. and M.S.A.; methodology, T.B.H., H.E.B. and M.S.A.; software, M.S.A.; validation, M.S.A.; formal analysis, T.B.H., H.E.B. and M.S.A.; investigation, T.B.H.; data curation, M.S.A.; writing – original draft preparation, T.B.H. and H.E.B.; writing – review and editing, T.B.H. and H.E.B.; project administration, T.B.H. and H.E.B. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Ben Hassen, T., El Bilali, H. and Allahyari, M.S. (2023), "Food shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic: an exploratory study in four Near Eastern countries", Journal of Islamic Marketing, Vol. 14 No. 8, pp. 2084-2108. https://doi.org/10.1108/JIMA-12-2021-0404
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