“Small and emerging brands are stealing market share because they are winning at innovation, have appealing brands, are social media savvy, and have a better awareness and ability to take advantage of market opportunities,” argues executive director, food & consumer trends, Nick Fereday in a note exploring the challenges facing ‘big food’ in 2016.
Big food manufacturers are also sitting on outdated assets optimized to produce a small number of products at huge volumes, at a time when consumers are shunning ‘mass produced’ goods in favor of personalized, artisanal and local products, he points out.
“Some companies have already begun to shed assets, including Kraft Heinz, General Mills, Mondelez and Kellogg…. Yet probably more could be done as they reassess the risks of owning the means of production in a market where consumers are becoming increasingly needy and fickle…
“The idea that one size no longer fits all is a fundamental challenge to their business model and is being felt across the food chain… Flexibility is the future.”
Cleaning up labels, acquiring sexier brands
So what’s to be done?
When it comes to ingredients, big food companies have already made significant steps to ditch artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, embrace cage-free eggs and even label GMOs in 2016, says Fereday.
The problem is that consumers, particularly Millennials, don’t always give big corporations credit for such moves, so it’s not always clear what the ROI is, he observes.
“Our big fail for food companies around this strategy lies with their marketing, and how they have struggled to find their voice and target audience in the age of multimedia.”
As smaller, more entrepreneurial and mission-driven brands are seen to be more ‘authentic’ by many consumers, they will also be snapped up at an earlier stage by large CPG companies in 2016, he predicts.
“Some of these smaller companies become attractive targets surprisingly quickly.”
IRI: Categories offering quick, healthier solutions for on-the-go consumers are driving growth
His comments came as Chicago-based market researcher IRI published its latest 'Times and Trends' report observing that the US consumer packaged goods (CPG) market is characterized by declining volumes (-1.7% in 2015), and very modest dollar growth (+0.6% in 2015) that is driven largely by inflation.
However, some food and beverage categories are growing, says IRI, notably in “categories that provide quick and healthier solutions for on the go consumers”.
The top performers in terms of unit sales growth in the year to Nov 1, 2015, were refrigerated lunches (+14.2%), refrigerated tea/coffee (+10.5%), ready-to-drink tea/coffee (+10.3%), spirits/liquor (+8.3%), energy drinks (+8.1%), refrigerated salads/coleslaw (+7.8%), bottled water (+7.1%), sports drinks (+7%), other sauces (+6.8%), and bakery/snacks (+6.1%).
Healthy eating and easy-preparation trends are helping to support growth across a number of categories
It adds: “Within edibles, refrigerated lunches posted the strongest unit sales growth for the year, up 14.2%, versus overall refrigerated department sales increases of 1.1%.
"Unit sales growth came despite significant price increases, which were spurred by inflationary prices …and only minimal increases in merchandising activity.
“The bottled water category saw volume sales increase 7.8% during the past year, amid relatively flat (+0.5%) prices and the proliferation of enhanced bottled waters. Healthy eating and easy-preparation trends are helping to support growth across a number of categories, including refrigerated salad/coleslaw, which saw unit sales increase 7.8% for the year."
Performance was weakest in the frozen foods sector, where unit sales declined 1.5%, and strongest in beverages, where unit sales increased 2.9%, adds the report: “Frozen dinners/entrees and frozen pizza saw sharp unit sales declines during the past year (4.6% and 3.6%, respectively)."
‘Explosive’ online sales growth
While online sales of consumer packaged goods account for less than 2% of overall industry sales, growth has been “explosive”, notes IRI.
“In fact, average annual growth of online CPG spending has topped 15% since 2010. Between 2013 and the end of 2018, the Internet will account for about 50% of industry growth, or $28bn.”