UBS picks the real ASX winners from the COVID-19 grocery boom

Panicked shopping helped supermarkets outperform the S&P/ASX 200 Index (Index:^AXJO) during COVID-19, but not all are winners in the post pandemic world

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Images of panicked shoppers rushing into the supermarket chains have helped the sector outperform the S&P/ASX 200 Index (Index:^AXJO) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question investors are facing is what happens as the paranoia dies down and fears of the sky falling eases.

In other words, are ASX shares in the consumer staples sector about to wake with a bad hangover?

Structural changes

The good news is that changes to consumer behaviour is likely to endure even as world gets the coronavirus disaster under control.

UBS identified three trends that will shape the fortunes of the grocery sector and highlighted the winners and losers from the changes.

Online boom

The big shift to online buying is an easy one to pick. Consumers aren't only using the web to shop for clothes and electronics, but are embracing online grocery deliveries during the lockdown.

This is unlikely to change post COVID-19. History has shown that once consumers embrace a new channel, they are likely to stick to it as habits are hard to reverse.

Our two largest supermarkets, Coles Group Ltd (ASX: COL) and Woolworths Group Ltd (ASX: WOW), are best placed to benefit from this trend. Competitors Aldi and Metcash Limited (ASX: MTS) aren't.

Increasing appetite for eating in

The second trend is change in eating occasions. UBS believes Aussies will be eating at home more instead of dining out.

Growing levels of joblessness and closures of restaurants that cannot survive the coronavirus lockdown will keep this trend going over the medium-term, if not longer.

The broker estimated that every 0.1 times increase in at-home cooking frequency equates to around a 1% increase in grocery sales.

Bargain products in vouge

The third trend is the move to value brands. This is again linked to the weakening economy, although UBS thinks premium health products with a clear point of differentiation are well placed to benefit too.

Based on these three lasting changes to spending habits, the broker believes Woolworths, Coles, A2 Milk Company Ltd (ASX: A2M) will be the winners in the sector.

On the flipside, Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd (ASX: CCL) will be a loser as its beverages are aimed at the higher end of the market, while grocery distributor Metcash Limited (ASX: MTS) lacks the online component.

The experts at the Motley Fool have identified other ASX stocks that are likely to outperform in the coronavirus recovery.

Click on the link below to find out what these shares in their free report.

Motley Fool contributor Brendon Lau has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia owns shares of A2 Milk, COLESGROUP DEF SET, and Woolworths Limited. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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