MRM Research Roundup: Holiday Edition

This edition of MRM Research Roundup features the Restaurant Resilience Index, the impact of reviews, shifitng consumer preferences and the importance of rewards.

Pandemic and Restaurant Demand

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted a number of businesses, but few harder than the restaurant industry.

“They’ve had to basically adapt and change their entire business model,” says Yang Yang, an associate professor in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) at Temple University. “Even the restaurants that have succeeded and done reasonably well with pivoting to a takeout operation have still suffered considerable losses. There’s just not the same amount of volume in takeout as there is in in-person dining.”

A new journal article from Yang details how specifically the restaurant industry was affected in the early parts of the pandemic. It also could provide a future outlook for the industry, especially if more states implement stay-at-home orders in response to rising COVID-19 cases.

Co-authored by Hongbo Liu from The University of Surrey and Xiang Chen from the University of Connecticut, Yang’s article “COVID-19 and restaurant demand: early effects of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders” was recently accepted for publication in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. Looking at data sources that include foot traffic data and credit card translation data, the paper analyzes restaurant demand in every county in the U.S. from February 1 to April 30, 2020, during the early part of the pandemic.

According to the study, COVID-19 significantly affected restaurant demand as a 1 percent increase in daily new COVID-19 cases led to a 0.0556 percent decrease in restaurant demand while stay-at-home orders were associated with a 3.25 percent demand decline. 

Additionally, the results indicate that the negative effect of COVID-19 was smaller for fast-food restaurants compared to full-service establishments. 

As part of the research, Yang had also created the Restaurant Resilience Index by COVID-19. The index details the average household expenditure for food away from home in 2019 compared for the early part of the pandemic for every county in the U.S. 

“The data we collected was from the first couple months of the pandemic, but from a long-run perspective, we hope the restaurant industry can develop contingency plans to improve its resilience to pandemics,” Yang said. “While we might not see a pandemic like COVID-19 again in the near future, challenges will continue to arise. This index helps ensure that the hospitality industry remains flexible and adaptable when faced with uncertainty.”

The Long Road to Recovery

he warm summer months and the arrival of outside dining provided a lifeline for a dining and hospitality industry that has been hit immensely hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But winter is almost here, and with cases spiking across the country, uncertainty once again surrounds the industry.

According to new research from faculty members in Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) and the school’s U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism and Hospitality Research, the road to recovery could still be a long one. In particular, the study shows that folks are particularly apprehensive with regard to indoor gatherings.

A research team led by Lu Lu, an assistant professor in the school, and Robert Li, professor and director of the center, recently conducted a national survey which explored US consumers’ travel intentions and expectations for hospitality business post COVID-19. More than 1,200 questionnaires were collected as part of the survey, which took a close look at respondents’ experiences, attitudes and future intentions with regard to traveling and visiting hospitality-related businesses for the remainder of 2020. STHM faculty members Laurie Wu, Yang Yang, Wesley Roehl and Lindsey Lee also helped lead the study.

The study is a follow-up to a related survey, which was published in June

“Hospitality-related businesses have been hit immensely hard by the pandemic. That’s something that we have known since this all started,” Lu said. “This survey is helpful, however, because it provides a potential outlook for the future, which can help businesses with regard to planning.”

According to the survey, approximately 60-70 percent of respondents noted that they plan to visit the following businesses “much less than before” for the remainder of 2020:

  • Casual/mid-scale restaurants 
  • Beauty care, SPA, and fitness center 
  • Shopping malls
  • Getaway/weekend cruises (1-5 days) 
  • Meetings, conferences and conventions
  • Upscale/fine-dining restaurants
  • Theme parks and other outdoor entertainments
  • Week/month-long cruises (1-4 weeks)
  • Night clubs/bars
  • Indoor concerts/performance/movie theaters

If there is a specific type of business that could benefit during the remainder of 2020, it could be the fast food industry. In the study, 57.4 percent of respondents indicated that their levels of patronage to quick service restaurants will be “about the same” and “much more than before” for the rest of 2020 compared to the start of the pandemic.

“For quick service restaurants, interactions are both short and limited, so it makes sense that this would be an industry that could do well for the remainder of the year,” Li said. 

“Quick service restaurants provide the convenience for daily consumption. Plus, they have already been equipped with advanced self-ordering technologies before COVID hit, which will serve them well to satisfy customers’ needs post the pandemic,” Lu added.

A broader look at the survey and its results are available here.

Reviews as a Resource

Online reviews are an increasingly valuable resource for customers searching for goods and services at local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Podium. The results from the nationwide study highlight how COVID-19 has driven key shifts in expectations and perceptions around online reviews, particularly in relation to local businesses. 

According to the data, 88 percent of Americans confirmed that online reviews play a role in them discovering a new local business, and 71 percent believe reviews matter more today than ever before. In addition, two in five (41 percent) Americans feel more compelled to patronize local businesses now than they did prior to COVID-19; and since the beginning of the pandemic, 33 percent have found a new local business by their home that they didn't previously patronize. 

"Companies need every advantage they can get right now, and the importance of positive online reviews can't be overlooked," said Eric Rea, co-founder and CEO at Podium. "Local businesses are impacted by online reviews more now than before the pandemic hit, and successfully managing reviews is an essential skill for any business – even those that do not primarily operate over the internet." 

Customers are searching reviews for how companies are handling COVID-19
  • Protective efforts like social distancing observance and mask-wearing policies were largely unknown in the U.S. before COVID-19 hit, but many survey respondents identified them as among the three most important characteristics they now look for in online business reviews during the pandemic. 
  • Overall, 39 percent of respondents prioritized mask-wearing policies and 31 percent social distancing observance. The youngest (18-29) and oldest (>60) groups cared the most about mask-wearing and social distancing, respectively. Women also cared more than men, on average. 

Mask-wearing policies 

  • 18-29: 42 percent 
  • 30-44: 34 percent 
  • 45 – 60: 33 percent 
  • >60: 46 percent 
  • Male: 34 percent; female: 44 percent

Social distancing observance 

  • Male: 25 percent; female: 37 percent
  • >60: 36 percent 
  • 45 – 60: 27 percent 
  • 30-44: 26 percent 
  • 18-29: 37 percent 

In ranking the top three characteristics respondents were looking for in online reviews before the pandemic, they overwhelmingly agreed on quality of service or products (80 percent), good prices (75 percent) and good customer service (75 percent). Those all dropped significantly during the pandemic (quality to 56 percent, prices to 54 percent, customer service to 52 percent) as more people prioritized COVID-19 responses. 

Social distancing policies are as important as store appearance in choosing a local business 
  • Over one-quarter of respondents (27 percent) believe that a company's social distancing policies are among the most important characteristics when choosing a local business, roughly equal with the appearance of the store (28 percent), and above familiarity (21 percent) and loyalty (19 percent). 
    • Leading the list of characteristics were location (61 percent), price or promotions (55 percent) and personal recommendations (50 percent).
Customers want to be understanding, but still expect good service from their local business
  • Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) who might otherwise leave a negative review would consider refraining during COVID-19, with the understanding that many local businesses have operational challenges right now. 
  • In general, women (49 percent) were more willing than men (40 percent) to extend review clemency.
  • At the same time, bad customer service was the number one response (59 percent) when respondents were asked to pick a single reason why they might give a business a one-star review. Unsafe COVID-19 policies was next at 26 percent.
Online reviews are driving last-minute decisions 
  • Nearly three in ten (28 percent) respondents said they had looked up online reviews for a business while standing or parked out front when deciding whether or not to enter. 
  • Younger people are more likely to use reviews in making doorstop decisions: 
  • 18-29: 35 percent; 30-44: 38 percent; 45 – 60: 23 percent; >60: 18 percent 
Good management of online reviews can make a difference
  • Customers' opinions of a local business can change when the businesses respond to online reviews. Fifty-six percent of respondents said their perspective on a business has shifted due to the business' response to reviews. 
  • While over half of every age group agreed that businesses' responses had changed their opinions, people aged 18-29 were most likely (64 percent) to be influenced.

To access the full report, click here

The Big Value Shift

With the pandemic driving people to spend more time at home, avoid air travel, and change their spending habits, businesses can expect to see a shift of more than US$3 trillion in economic value, according to Accenture.

The report, titled The Big Value Shift, quantifies the broad impact of long-term changing consumer behaviors and provides actionable insights for companies to build strategies to thrive in the face of disruption. Through a proprietary macroeconomic model that incorporates data from 38,000 companies across 25 industries, as well as household spending data for 15 countries that account for approximately 80 percent of global GDP, Accenture conservatively found:

  • More than US$2 trillion of annual value may shift away from industries such as restaurants, traditional retail, and commercial real estate as consumers pass more of their leisure time at home.
  • Changes in spending may cause a net decline of up to US$687 billion in annual value across consumer-facing industries.
  • If current declines in air travel persist into a longer-term shift, up to US$318 billion of annual value will flow to different industries and ecosystems.

“Ripple effects of today’s changing consumer behaviors are causing waves that will reshape industries and their ecosystems. Companies must be ready — with responsive business models, technology-enabled operating models that are agile, and a growth mindset rooted in data and advanced analytics — to uncover new value and better meet customer demands as this wave of change approaches their industry,” said Kathleen O’Reilly, global lead of Accenture Strategy.

According to the latest Accenture Consumer Pulse survey, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents expect to feel most comfortable spending their free time at home over the next six months. This shift is impacting the traditional retail and leisure industries with value transferring to companies that offer ecommerce and digital-entertainment options.

“The crisis has forced an uncomfortable reckoning for many brands — but, handled wisely, this will result in new ways of doing business that deliver better experiences for consumers and growth for organizations,” said Oliver Wright, global lead of Accenture’s Consumer Goods & Services industry group. “Before Covid-19, in-store shopping was, for most companies, the only ‘game in town’ with ecommerce and digital marketing an afterthought. The companies that fully integrate enjoyable and efficient digital and physical experiences that deliver faster, more convenient services will be the winners in the future.”

Latest on On-Premise 

Here are some key insights from the Nielsen CGA RestauranTrak dataset, powered by Check-Level Insights Pool (CLIP), for the week ending November 21:

Total U.S.
  • Sales velocity (average dollar sales per the average on-premise outlet in Nielsen CGA measurement) in the on-premise channel is -29 percent year-over-year (comparing the week ending November 21, 2020 to the same week one year prior).
  • Compared to the week ending November 14, sales velocity is -6 percent.
  • Compared to March 28, when the on-premise shutdown commenced, sales velocity is +212 percent.


  • Sales velocity is now +4 percent compared to the week ending November 14.
  • Only state analyzed that experienced growth week-over-week
  • Sales velocity is only -10 percent year-over-year (comparing the week ending November 21, 2020 to the same week one year prior).
  • Florida surpasses New York as the strongest state benchmarked against March 28, with sales velocity +263 percent, vs. New York’s +245 percent.

New York

  • Sales velocity is now -15 percent compared to the week ending November 14.


  • Sales velocity is now -12 percent compared to the week ending November 14. Los Angeles and San Francisco outperformed (-3 percent and -11 percent respectively), while San Diego experienced significant declines, -24 percent compared to the week ending November 14.


  • Sales velocity is now -18 percent compared to the week ending November 14, driven by Chicago experiencing velocity declines of -24 percent compared to the week ending November 14.


  • Sales velocity is now -7 percent compared to the week ending November 14.
  • Sales velocity is only -11 percent year-over-year (comparing the week ending November 21, 2020 to the same week one year prior).

The most updated On Premise Impact Report by Nielsen CGA, along with other special reports issued over the past several weeks, can be found here.

Delivering on Rewards

Paytronix Systems, Inc., in a collaborative report with, revealed that about 93 million consumers would spend more if their restaurants offered loyalty and online ordering. The report, “Delivering on Restaurant Rewards,” takes a data-driven look at how consumers want to interact with restaurant experience technology. Download the full report: Delivering On Restaurant Rewards

In order to better understand restaurant loyalty engagement and how restaurants can customize their offerings to enhance their business, surveyed 2,089 U.S. consumers about the types of restaurants from which they order, whether they use those restaurants’ loyalty and rewards programs, and the types of rewards they would like to receiv

Among the report findings are:  

  • Eighty-six million U.S. restaurant customers now use loyalty and rewards programs, and 44.2 million more might use them if the restaurants they order from offered them.
  • Loyalty and rewards programs are key to winning over millennial, bridge millennial, and Generation X customers – the three generations who spend most in restaurants today.
  • Loyalty and rewards programs could encourage four out of 10 restaurant customers — 93 million people — to spend more on food orders.
  • Online ordering, online payment, fast lane in-store pick up, and drive through top the technologies consumers demand today – with loyalty and reward programs leading the way.

“The collaborative Paytronix and report identifies a widespread and unmet market demand for restaurant loyalty programs,” said Michelle Tempesta, head of product, Paytronix Systems, Inc. “The report also reveals that consumers continue to want to choose how they interact with programs. Many prefer mobile interactions and nearly 70 percent of QSR customers want to identify themselves with their mobile phone number. The more ways consumers can join and engage in a program, the more members a program will attract – which results in a material financial lift in impact through loyalty strategies.”

Holiday Plans

According to new data from Tripadvisor, despite rising COVID cases, Americans remain more optimistic about travel than the rest of the world, with 55 percent of Americans planning on traveling this holiday season, compared to only 30 percent globally. 

Notably, despite the decline in restaurant traffic over the past month, the majority of Americans plan on dining out at least once over the holidays. 

For a look at a more in-depth report on the shifting trends in traveler demand and behavior during 2020,  click here.

2020 End-of-Year Holiday Trends
  • Consistent with Thanksgiving, December holiday travel is down (20 percent) from 2019, but over half of Americans (55 percent) still plan on hitting the road this holiday season.
  • Dining out in December: 63 percent of Americans plan on dining out at least once over the holidays.
  • Top priorities: Travelers are looking for restaurant recommendations, discounts, health and safety tips, and cancellation policies. Tripadvisor’s Travel Safe tool can help you find, filter, and validate relevant health and safety information about hotels and restaurants.
  • Travelers are getting into the holiday spirit, with 61 percent excited for the upcoming holiday season and 51 percent looking forward to giving gifts.
  • Consumers are increasingly shopping online, with 50 percent planning to purchase more gifts online this year than they have in years past.
  • Shop local: 62 percent believe it’s important to support small businesses this holiday season.
  • As restaurant restrictions are lifted, 36 percent of Americans plan to dine at restaurants like they did before the pandemic, while 19 percent prefer outdoor-only seating, and 18 percent plan to only order delivery.

“After a challenging year, confidence in future travel plans continues to rise. 70 percent of Americans feel at least moderately safe to travel this holiday season.” said Christopher Hsi, Consumer Market Research Lead Analyst for Tripadvisor. “As we look ahead to 2021, flexibility and safety will remain top priorities. And with recent positive news about vaccine developments, confidence is likely to grow. In fact, over half (52 percent) of Americans believe travel will rebound within three months.”

Black Friday Gift Card Sales

Paytronix Systems, Inc., examined Black Friday Restaurant Gift Card Sales and found that while they were down across the full-service sector, quick service and fast casual restaurants either held steady their 2019 sales or saw an increase in spend over last year. December purchases typically account for upwards of 50 percent of annual gift card sales and the first weekend traditionally acts as a barometer of upcoming trends throughout the holiday season. 

Paytronix analyzed the anonymous aggregate gift card sales for more than 175 brands between Friday, November 27, and Sunday, November 29, 2020. Paytronix identified the following changes in 2020 Black Friday gift card sales when compared to those for 2019: 

  • The number of cards sold declined by 30.1 percent across all restaurant sectors.  
  • Quick Service card sales declined by 3.6 percent on Black Friday, but the amount loaded onto those cards increased by 4.6 percent Over the rest of the weekend, the number of cards sold increased by 0.7 percent, while the overall spend decreased by 1.8 percent.  
  • Fast Casual sales were mixed, with some concepts showing big declines in card sales, while others tripled sales thanks to rich bonus offers.  

The small gains over 2019 in Quick Service sales appeared to be related to e-gift and bonus promotions, though overall e-gift sales declined.  

“The more upscale the restaurant, the greater the decline we saw in gift card sales during the Black Friday shopping weekend,” said Paytronix Head of Data Insights Lee Barnes. “This likely means that fewer people will be giving restaurant gift cards as a gift, almost certainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, shoppers seem to be focusing on those cards that have bonus cash promotions, possibly as a gift to themselves.” 

This trend indicates that restaurants may see a much lighter gift card season than in years past.  

“Restaurants should consider alternative ways of driving guests back to make up for the loss in gift card sales,” said Paytronix President and CEO Andrew Robbins. “Subscriptions represent a novel form of recurring revenue that gives guests a reason to come back for repeat visits, much like a gift card. The difference is that subscriptions present opportunity for renewal and to invite the guest to build a relationship with the brand on an ongoing basis.” 

This Black Friday gift card sales analysis is the first stage of a larger holiday gift card data analysis that will publish later this month. This research will supplement the Paytronix Annual Gift Card Sales Report: 2020, which surveys over 200 brands about their annual gift card sales over the course of the year. Paytronix offers an in-depth look into holiday gift card sales, sales by channel and service type, anticipated redemption and new insights on eGift cards. With the online ordering industry expanding, the Report also examines the impact of gift cards redeemed online. 

Restaurant Guests and COVID

 COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants continue to vary across the country as one city after another limits the number of patrons allowed in a restaurant at any given time. However, one element that remains consistent is the importance meat and/or chicken play in consumers’ dining out experiences. In the latest round of research conducted by Midan Marketing, more than 1,000 meat consumers were surveyed about their restaurant and foodservice experiences during the pandemic. Following are some of the key findings: 

  • Restaurant takeout and delivery orders surpassed the typical pre-pandemic week, and consumers reported better overall foodservice experiences. Delivery satisfaction is at 75 percent and pickup/takeout is at 78 percent. 
  • One in five consumers report they anticipate ordering more meals from restaurants in the coming months. 
  • Fifty percent of consumers have not eaten inside a restaurant since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of people eating inside a restaurant has dropped from 76 percent in a typical pre-COVID-19 week to 41 percent. 
  • Nearly one in three consumers have tried a new restaurant since the beginning of the pandemic, and most are doing so for these reasons: to support a local restaurant, try restaurants that have recently opened or offer delivery, or to cure boredom. 
  • When they do dine out, meat and chicken are most likely at the center of the plate of 80 percent of consumers’ favorite restaurant meals. Since the beginning of the pandemic, two in five consumers reported cravings for meat dishes they cannot prepare at home. 
  • Anticipation of a financial recession combined with fears about the virus and an increased comfort of cooking at home have 25 percent of survey respondents reporting they will eat fewer meals at restaurants after the pandemic. 

“Maintaining authenticity and connecting with consumers — whether it’s online or in person — are ways the foodservice sector can be relevant and maintain awareness while consumers are still regaining their comfort level of eating in restaurants,"said Michael Uetz, principal, Midan Marketing. “There were two areas consumers mentioned missing the most from not eating out — the social aspect and ethnic cuisine. Those surveyed said they are simply tired of cooking at home. Survey respondents said they are craving foods that are harder to make at home such as steak, fried chicken or ethnic dishes.” 

“Fine dining establishments are offering takeout to offset lower dine-in sales, but consumers are missing the experience these establishments are known for. Finding opportunities to add the ambience of the dine- in experience for at-home consumption is how restaurants can deliver during the pandemic. Picnic baskets, candles, tablecloth, maybe a playlist – these items will help break the boredom consumers report having with cooking at home and bring the dining out experiences they crave into their homes.," he added.

“There’s great opportunity for foodservice and retailers to form valuable partnerships. Survey respondents are craving that restaurant dining experience but are not yet comfortable dining out. Restaurants can market key menu items by partnering with retailers, offering products to new and existing customers for in- home dining. The consumers who reported planning to eat out more post-pandemic included Generation Z, Millennials and households with children. Restaurants should take this opportunity to cater to these audiences now to continue to capture foodservice dollars.” 

Franchise Finance Bounces Back

Financing for restaurant franchise operators in the large and middle-tier segments has mostly bounced back to what it had been before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Brian Geraghty, head of Restaurant  Finance at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group.  

"In the U.S. we see loan terms and pricing that are as aggressive as they were prior to the full-blown health crisis that came into view in late-March," Geraghty said, adding that banks have reverted to accepting a higher leverage profile among borrowers for financing. "We see franchisees' rent-adjusted leverage ratios back to 5.75 after tightening by roughly three-quarters of a turn—to 5.0—during the spring of 2020."

Rent adjusted leveraged (RAL), also known as lease-adjusted leverage, is the ratio of debt to EBITDAR (or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and rent costs). Restaurant lenders evaluate the RAL of their borrowers, many of which do not own their properties but rather lease them. 

Rise in M&A and franchise purchases

Geraghty cites recent momentum in merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity in the quick-service and fast-casual market categories of the restaurant industry, which are defined as establishments offering quick, inexpensive dining with limited preparation and customization, no seating hosts, and no alcoholic beverages. 

"Recent restaurant acquisitions in these market categories highlight the substantial amount of readily available capital for deployment," he noted. "Financial buyers, in particular, see investment opportunities in large and mid-sized restaurants that are surviving the pandemic, proving the resilience of their business models, and able to provide portfolio diversification as consumer-facing outfits."

Geraghty also points to an upswing in the valuations and frequency at which franchise establishments are changing hands. "In the mid-sized segment, we see a greater number of franchisee purchases at high prices, which indicate to us the desire of owners to enter into this space or expand their foothold," he says. 

Lessons learned from the pandemic

Geraghty notes that restaurants have emerged from the pandemic with valuable learning experiences that are helping them improve efficiency, enhance customer service and economize.

"The changing economics of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants have led many to shift their focus to drive-through and take-out offerings, and to invest in the technological infrastructure that enables them to field online orders," he says. "All the same, casual-dining, family-dining and fine-dining establishments, which rely more on table service, are facing greater challenges."

Seafood Struggles

 The pandemic is putting a hurt on the seafood industry, finds the largest study of COVID-19 on U.S. fisheries, which suggests that American fishmongers may flounder – or go belly up – without more government aid.

Monthly fresh seafood exports declined up to 43 percent compared to last year, while monthly imports fell up to 37 percent, and catches dropped 40 percent some months, reports the new University of Vermont-led study in Fish and Fisheries journal.

Over the first six months of 2020, total U.S. seafood exports are down 20 percent, and imports are down 6 percent, compared to the same period last year. Further losses are likely as restrictions increase to address COVID-19.

“Seafood has been hit harder than many other industries because many fisheries rely heavily on restaurant buyers, which dried up when the necessary health protocols kicked in,” said lead author Easton White of the University of Vermont. “Restaurants represent about 65 percent of U.S. seafood spending, normally.”

For context, over one million U.S. seafood workers regularly produce more than $4 billion in annual exports, much of which is processed overseas and imported back to the U.S.

While seafood data often takes several months – or longer – to compile, the researchers used pioneering methods to quickly determine the pandemic’s impacts on fisheries. U.S. Congress received preliminary data from the study in September.

In January, demand for American imports plummeted as lockdowns began in China. Starting in March, web searches for U.S. seafood restaurants fell over 50 percent, and foot traffic at seafood markets decreased 30 percent.

Aid for fisheries has been slow, partly because pandemics are not currently considered valid reasons for a fishery failure or disaster under current law. The CARES act has authorized $300M for the sector.

Even with increased demand for seafood delivery, which surged 460 percent for Google searches from March to April, some producers may not be able to recover without government assistance.

“Seafood is a seasonal business,” said White, who won COVID-19 research funds from UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment. “If you have a March to June season, and can’t get funds until next year, you might have to quit. Support from policymakers will decide which producers can survive.”

Aid should target regions where fisheries make up a disproportionate share of the economy, including Maine, Alaska, Louisiana, and Washington, as well as tribal fisheries, researchers say.

“Foreign markets play an important role in the U.S. seafood sector, but dependence on exports leaves portions of the sector vulnerable to these global shocks,” said co-author Jessica Gephart of American University. “Diversifying the sector by building local networks and consumer education campaigns can help build resilience to future shocks.”

White and the team knew that measuring the pandemic’s impact on fisheries would be essential for allocating government support — but the necessary statistics often take years to become available.

“The data is collected daily or weekly, but it's often handwritten in a fisher’s logbook.” White said. “The info needs to be processed and turned into a database and verified before researchers and government leaders get the big picture.”

The study used traditional and novel sources of data, from NOAA fisheries reports and federal customs data, to anonymous commercial web location data made available to researchers studying COVID-19, and a comprehensive database of news and trends – created by UVM students – tracking the pandemic’s impacts on fisheries, from plant closures and outbreaks to travel restrictions on seafood laborers.

While the drops in catches and international trade were stark, White said some seafood producers have found ways to adapt.

Community supported fisheries programs are increasing, with websites like Local Catch ( helping consumers buy fresh seafood that might have previously been sold to restaurants or at markets.

That said, home cooking won’t replace seafood restaurant sales. “Most people who cook at home are not likely looking to cook fresh monkfish from Maine for themselves or their family, so the types of species being consumed is changing,” said co-author Halley Froehlich of University of California, Santa Barbara.

These changes in seafood consumption may be here to stay – particularly as global COVID cases climb ever higher – as producers look for ways to sell more of their catches domestically.

Study researchers include: Easton White (University of Vermont), Halley Froehlich and Richard Cottrell (University of California, Santa Barbara), Jessica Gephart (American University), Trevor Branch (University of Washington), Rahul Agrawal Bejarano (University of Michigan), and Julia Baum (University of Victoria). To read the full study, click here