Staff Reporters
Feb 5, 2020

Coronavirus impact on FMCG: Lessons from the SARS outbreak

Kantar Worldpanel looked at 2003 data to provide a baseline for how China's FMCG market might be impacted this year.

A deserted shopping area in Chengdu on January 30, (Shutterstock)
A deserted shopping area in Chengdu on January 30, (Shutterstock)

The 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak had a significant impact on FMCG sales in China, including a sharp slowdown and changes in category demand, according to a review released yesterday by Kantar Worldpanel China.

The company said it reviewed consumer purchase data in 15 China cities in 2002-2003 to shed light on how consumer behaviour changes might bring new challenges and opportunities for manufacturers and retailers amid this year's coronavirus crisis.

A sharp slowdown took place in April and May 2003, when the biggest increases in SARS infection were underway. By June the market returned to growth rates similar to those at the beginning of the year.


Unsurprisingly, the dine-out market was heavily impacted, and culinary and instant-food categories showed a noticeable sales increase in the 12 weeks ending May 2003. For obvious reasons, purchases of household cleaning and personal cleaning products also shot up.


The SARS outbreak also benefitted neighbourhood supermarkets and convenience stores.

However, Kantar observed that in 2003 ecommerce was only just emerging in China; Taobao launched on May 10 of that year.

"With the high transmissibility of new coronavirus coinciding with the massive migration during Chinese New Year, the government’s public measures have also evolved in 2020 since SARS, when home quarantine was less mandatory in 2003," Kantar's release stated. "In 2020, we expect to see a large switch of shopper spend to omni-channel purchasing and an increased share of ecommerce retailers during this past Chinese New Year. The 'No Physical Contact' new OTO/EC delivery model fits very well with consumers’ needs when advised to stay at home."

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