Interest in Chinese, Italian Foods Plummets Worldwide
As coronavirus spreads, interest in Chinese, Italian foods plummets, according to Google Trends data
The western world loves Chinese and Italian foods. But over the last month there has been a dramatic decline in interest in both cuisines, according to Google Trends data.
Here at Chef’s Pencil we have been following trends in international cuisines around the world. Our reports show there is little variation in ethnic culinary tastes across Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK and Ireland.
In all five countries, Indian, Mexican, Italian, and Chinese feature in the top five choices of international food. Not only are the choices of cuisine similar, Chinese cuisine is the most popular international cuisine in America, Canada, the UK, and Ireland – only Australia puts Thai first and Chinese second. Chinese is the undisputed ethnic food champion.
That is until last week.
Interest in Chinese Food Drops by 33%
Comparing Google Trends data last week with the average for January before the coronavirus outbreak shows a general (and steep) worldwide drop in interest for Chinese food by 33%.
This means far fewer people are searching for Chinese restaurants, Chinese takeaways or for Chinese foods that can be bought in grocery shops.
US interest dropped 17%, Canada 22% and Australia 23%. But other countries are being even more cautious with Spain showing a 73% drop in interest for a Dim Sum while Japan has simply closed the door recording a hefty 96% drop in interest.
In the US and Australia there have been a few local reports of an unusual silence at Chinese restaurants. Ying’s Takee Outee in Jacksonville, Florida, complains of an empty carpark and deserted dining tables on a usually frantic Friday night.
What Google data shows is that the trend is not isolated to a few cities, but is more generalized.
And with 45,000 Chinese restaurants across the States generating $20 billion in annual sales, the panic that has struck could end up having a serious economic effect.
Japan is taking the panic even further. Not only have they also rejected Italian cuisine at the same 96% rate they have of Chinese cuisine, but, even more dramatically, some restaurants are refusing to serve foreign customers.
Interest in Italian food plunges by 24%
As the coronavirus took a hold in Italy, its cuisine took a hit as interest in the food dropped worldwide by 24% – 10% in the UK, 13% in the USA and, 25% in France, again one of the biggest drops, 43% in Spain.
Fewer people, especially in the UK, France and Spain, are searching locally for Italian restaurants and Italian foods. Google Trends data is usually well linked to consumer purchasing decisions, so it may mean slower business for local Italian restaurants and shops selling Italian produce.
On the bright side, in some European countries like Germany and Switzerland the trend has not yet caught on.
What makes the data even more interesting is that only some of our favorite foods are being rejected. While worldwide Japanese and Korean cuisines have also suffered a drop in interest, food from Mexico and Thailand, which have so far been minimally affected by coronavirus, is still as popular as it ever was.
We’ll keep an eye on Thai food though as Thailand does have more Covid-19 cases than Mexico and it’s too early to tell whether it too will fall off the menu.
What is the cause of all this?
What is driving people to give up their favorite foods? It is possibly a fear that restaurant employees have visited their homeland and brought the virus back with them. Or that the virus has been brought in with the food products themselves.
There have been racist attacks on Chinese people around the world in the wake of the epidemic. The virus has encouraged xenophobia and racism. But there is a world of difference between physically attacking someone on the street and turning down a dish of dumplings.
According to behavioral science experts there is a difference between disaster panic and general panic. In times of disaster panic, like natural disasters – fires, floods – we have knowledge and information.
We can make rational decisions about how we respond.
But in a general panic over a public health issue like a virus, it is more like a silent, invisible enemy – no one knows when or if it will strike. That’s when people are more likely to act irrationally; and the less official information, the more irrational.
Once fear and panic set in, people start to look at the world in terms of what is safe and what is unsafe. Sorting the world in this way gives us a sense of control, according to Monic Schoch-Spana, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. So safe people, unsafe people; safe places, unsafe places. And, of course, safe food, unsafe food.
The good news is it won’t last, according to psychologist Katharina Wittgens. History tells us these “panics usually decline after a month when people have had time to think more rationally”.
So Ying’s Takee Outee can take some comfort from knowing they just have to weather the storm – the customers will be back. But the sudden shift in the data we spotted at Chef’s Pencil will be forever known as the coronavirus blip.
Chef’s Pencil has analysed Google Trends data for Chinese and Italian cuisines. Google provides data on a whole range of topics, including national cuisines, and allocates a score that indicates the level of interest in the topic.
Google uses AI to categorize search terms for national cuisines. For example, Japanese cuisine will comprise hundreds or thousands of searches related to the topic such as Japanese restaurants, Japanese rice, sushi, sushi recipes, Japanese food, and even names of well-known Japanese restaurants.
Google then counts how often they are used at a national, state-, metro and city-level relative to all (local) searches and allocates an interest score.
Cuisine data Google Trends popularity scores are relative and not absolute. Please see below how Google defines regional popularity scores:
Values are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 is the location with the most popularity as a fraction of total searches in that location, a value of 50 indicates a location which is half as popular. A value of 0 indicates a location where there was not enough data for this term.
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