Texans’ Search for Comfort Food Was a Top Mobile Trend During February Power Outages

During February's cold snap, which was catastrophic for many Texans, mobile behavior indicates that when Texans initially hunkered down they were hoping to order food through GrubHub. As the week progressed, they were most interested in ordering pizza from Pizza Hut, and donuts and coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, and in the later part of the week, some Taco Bell. Most restaurants had less attention than expected by Texan customers, with more typical phone usage restoring around the weekend.

Introduction

The cold spell after Valentine's Day in the central United States impacted Texas greatly, where residents and systems were least prepared. Embee Mobile measures app usage across the US, including over 5,000 Texans, and we wondered how mobile phone app usage might change during the power outage crisis caused by the unprecedented cold weather.
Chart of Texan app usage of various food apps for the 6 days after Feb 15
We found a mix of both expected and quite unexpected results.

  • Usage of nextdoor.com was 2.9x more than expected (see methodology below), which would be expected as a community comes together.
  • Quite unsurprisingly too was a 2.9x more than expected use of the Weather.com app as people likely wondered if it was going to get even colder or when relief might be in sight.
  • Social Media was surprisingly not significantly affected. The usage of most messaging apps (e.g. whatsapp, Facebook messenger), social media (e.g. facebook, twitter, reddit) was largely the same. While overall usage was a little less than we’d expect in Texas, this was not because people stopped checking their feeds, nor was it mitigated by feed checking. Time spent on Facebook was a mere 16% more than expectation.
  • Food apps, however, varied widely.

So, What Did Texans Really Want as They Turned to Take-Out?

Texans did not give up on restaurants, despite some restaurants (and in some counties, nearly all restaurants) being unable to open.

Delivery services were highly variable:

  • Grubhub was a clear winner. On the first two days, time spent on grubhub was 117% above expectation, and 199% above expectation in the middle of the week.
  • DoorDash's success was much more mooted. At the start of the cold spell, there was a little more usage than expected, but this was counterer by being a little lower in the middle of the week and 50% higher at the end of the week.
  • UberEats was a consistent loser. On the first 2 days, it was 52% down; on the next two 72% down; and still down 7% at the end of the week. It looks like Texans didn’t expect UberEats to deliver.

Dedicated restaurant apps were also highly variable.

  • Despite starting below par at the start of the cold snap, Pizza Hut is the success story. It lost the least amount of attention on the Monday/Tuesday and enjoyed 127% more time than expected mid-week, and even at the end of the week it was getting more Texas attention than would have been expected if the cold snap hadn’t occurred.
  • In spite of being the only pizza place open in San Antonio, Domino's was 40% and 33% down on Mon/Tue and Wed/Thr respectively. As the weekend approached, Domino's hardly managed to get more than expected.
  • While Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks are best known for coffee, and both had much degraded attention in the first two days (Dunkin' Donuts 64% down and Starbucks 68% down), their paths from Wednesday onwards diverged. In the middle of the week, Dunkin' Donuts enjoyed 98% more attention than expected while Starbuck endured 45% less attention than expected. By the end of the week, both were a little below expectation.
  • With the exception of Taco Bell, which enjoyed more than expected time on the app from Wednesday, all other restaurant chains had consistently less app time than expected, with Chick Fil A bottoming the rankings with an average 56% less attention across the week than would be expected.

Methodology: 'more than expected'

The phrase 'more than expected' or 'less than expected' is based on a prediction of the amount of time we would expect to have recorded by Texans on each given day. It is calculated by comparing the usage of Texans and US panelists not in Texas for the week February 1-7 for each of around 20,000 of the more popular apps. This ratio between Texan usage and non-Texan usage was applied on each day of the cold spell. We then compare the actual time using apps in Texas during the cold spell with the prediction to derive a 'more than expected' or 'less than expected' calculation.

Methodology: Embee Mobile measurement

Embee Mobile's app behavioral mobile panel measures behavior, browsing, network condition and location for adult panelists throughout the US, including over 5,000 panelists in Texas. Panelists opt-in by installing an app and registering, for which they are rewarded.