America Learns to Bake During U.S. Coronavirus Lockdown

By Estelle Laziuk, Flurry Analyst

With many restaurants and bars closed during COVID-19, sessions in the Food and Drink app category declined by an average of 18% during the lockdown. While aggregate mobile app usage in the category has declined, we suspect that within Recipe, Takeout and Restaurant sub-categories, the story is different. In this report, to gain insights in cooking and eating habits during the pandemic, we look at the change in usage per Food & Drink sub-categories for the first 6 months of 2020.

Flurry Analytics, a Verizon Media company, measures end user behavior on 1 million iOS and Android applications, with broad coverage in the Food & Drink app category. For this analysis, Flurry selected a representative set of Recipe, Takeout and Restaurant apps in the United States. The Recipe sub-category includes apps to find and save recipes. The Takeout sub-category includes apps to order food and drinks for in-store, curbside and drive-thru pick-up as well as for home delivery. The Restaurant sub-category covers apps to find nearby restaurants, coffee shops and other dining locations, without any features to place orders. As our key metric, we use monthly sessions, meaning the total number of times that users launched apps per sub-category each month. We set January 2020 as the baseline, and then compared growth in app usage against that baseline for each subsequent month, February through June.


In the chart above, we show the percent change in monthly sessions compared to the January 2020 baseline for each Food & Drink sub-category. On the right, we display the average change in app usage during the first three full months of stay-at-home orders, April - June. Let’s examine some of the changes. 

Beginning mid-March, in order to enforce social distancing, many states ordered bars and restaurants to close their dining rooms and limit service to takeout only. As a result, Restaurant app usage sharply declined by 22% in March relative to January, while Takeout app usage slightly decreased by 3%. Recipe app usage, on the other hand, grew by 5% in March compared to January, which is 15 percentage points higher than during the previous month in February. We believe this increase in Recipe app usage is related to the initial uncertainty people had around how the virus spread. This uncertainty made cooking at home seem like the safer choice versus ordering food prepared in restaurants. Additionally, during shelter-in-place, many Americans found they had more free time to fill at home with activities such as cooking and baking. According to Nielsen data, sales of baking yeast skyrocketed by 647% in the week ending March 21, compared to the same week in 2019, and sales of flour spiked by 155%. The surge in demand for flour and yeast combined with growth among Recipe apps reflect how popular baking and cooking became as people found themselves with newfound free time.

In April, as Americans experienced their first full month of sheltering-in-place, Restaurant app usage continued declining, plunging by 44% relative to January. Takeout app usage also decreased by 16% compared to January, with home deliveries, drive-thru and curbside pick-up all increasing the risk of in-person contact and therefore the risk of exposure to the virus. On the other hand, Recipe app usage continued to rise, surging by 28% relative to January. 

In May, as most states began reopening restaurant seating areas with guidelines for customers to maintain social distancing, Restaurant apps experienced an 8 percentage points lift in usage compared to April. Takeout app usage also grew by 12% compared to January, as more delivery services started offering contact-less deliveries, in which the package is dropped off without direct handoff. 

During the first full months of stay-at-home orders, April - June, Recipe apps gained the most app usage, with a 26% average rise from April to June compared to January. During this period, Restaurant apps suffered the most, with a -36% average decline from April to June relative to January. This indicates that people began cooking at home much more, and going out to restaurants far less, compared to pre-coronavirus levels in January.

As we write this report, many state officials are once again issuing indoor dining closures to combat a resurgence of new coronavirus cases. We therefore anticipate that Recipe apps will continue to outperform the January baseline, likely at the expense of Restaurant and Takeout apps. We’ll continue to monitor the changes in Recipe, Takeout and Restaurant app usage and keep you informed about important shifts in consumer behavior during the pandemic.