Shopping and Consumption Trends in Post-Covid Puerto Rico

March 21, 2022
Shopping and Consumption Trends in Post-Covid Puerto Rico

Luis R. Burset, Ph.D / Gaither International

Last year, in the article Puerto Rico’s Shopping and Consumption Trends in the Age of COVID-19, we reported the most notable trends in consumption and demographics resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic which hit Puerto Rico in March 2020. This time, we compare data reported during the pandemic period, until December 2021. Complementing the stats, we share data on a proprietary study conducted among individuals who lost their jobs during the pandemic to identify their attitudes towards returning to work.

Population and consumer economy

Puerto Rico continues to have a lower, and older aged population. After a short-lived optimistic perspective for the island’s demographics, the 2021 estimate projected a 0.7% decline: 3,263,584 persons compared to 2020´s population count of 3,285,874. To note, the Census Office issued a 2020 estimate of 3,159,343, reflecting 126,531 individuals less than the count. This decline indicates the sustained drop in annual births. In 2021, the number of births was 18,170, a 4.5% decrease compared to 2020’s 19,094. Another population indicator is the net passenger movement into the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan. The latest report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows 16,000 passengers less in a 12-month period, up to September 2021 (more outbound than inbound). This seemed like a slight but encouraging change vs. 21,000 for the same period the year before. As for the median age, the increase continued, reflecting the aging trend: 43.8 years over 43.2 in 2019.

In 2021, more people were managing more dollars to buy groceries. Per governmental sources, by mid-year, 867,423 families were participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Programa de Asistencia Nutritional (PAN). That is about 65% of the total population on the island, and 35,000 more than the year before. These families received additional emergency funds in July totaling $966MM. Also, the Resident Commissioner announced that the new assignment for the island grew to $2.5B effective this past October. However, this does not necessarily translate into more family income available for grocery shopping. The administrator of Puerto Rico’s Department of Family Socioeconomic Development (ADSEF, by its Spanish acronym), pointed out that these assignments still maintain participants’ benefits at levels lower than previous quarters during the pandemic period. What is evident, as graphed below, is that more funds have led to higher grocery purchases among PAN participants, reducing the visit frequency to food stores.

Per MIDA’s Radiografía del Consumidor study, the average monthly amount spent on groceries is $407.

Graphic: Last time you did grocery shopping

From a consumption standpoint, many categories saw a decline in purchase frequency by the end of 2021. This trend is evident in some of the core categories tracked by Gaither´s Media Brand Profiles study. Fast food restaurants’ weekly orders peaked by the second quarter of 2021 at 66%, declining to 61% during the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, monthly order incidence remained unchanged.

Graphic: Las time you ordered at a fast food restaurant

Casual dining restaurants, on the contrary, suffered a steep decline in orders, with an increase of non-users from 19% during the first quarter to 32% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The use of cellular phones went down from 96% in the second quarter of 2020 to 81% by the fourth quarter of 2021. If we consider the governmental aids available during the pandemic period, this decline would be associated with a considerable reduction among users in the pre-paid segment, going from 12% to 5% for the same period reported before.

Attitudes towards employment

The loss of jobs resulting from the pandemic has created two distinct attitudes towards returning to work. As the common denominator for both groups, the benefits of increased governmental aids inhibit their sense of needing to go back to work. In turn, this has made them more aware of their family situation and how going back to work would affect them: minors at home and work schedules that keep them away from home. This scenario is stronger among individuals living together, where both partners enjoy social programs’ benefits equally, as well as those with lower scholarity.

Those affected have become more discriminating and demanding, evaluating employment offers and benefits more harshly (i.e. work schedules, shorter hours for a higher pay, etc.). To a lesser extent, those with higher education have ventured into small family businesses, particularly in food services.


  • Gaither Media Brand Profiles Daily Tracking Study
  • Gaither Qualitative Research among Formerly Employed, Non-working Individuals
  • Bureau of Transportation Statistics; September 2021 Report
  • Primera Hora
  • El Vocero
  • MIDA Radiografía del Consumidor

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