KeHE: ‘Treasure hunting’ may look different post-COVID, but consumers still seek innovation

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

KeHE predicts plant-based picnicking will be a hot trend this summer. Source: Getty/vadimguzhva
KeHE predicts plant-based picnicking will be a hot trend this summer. Source: Getty/vadimguzhva

Related tags KeHE wellness plant-based

Innovation still drives the food landscape even though “treasure hunting” may look different now than before the pandemic sidelined casual in-store consumer browsing and retailers and brands rationalized SKUs to focus on best-sellers to alleviate supply chain pressures, according to KeHE.

“Consumers are looking for new products,”​ Ari Goldsmith, vice president of marketing at KeHE, told FoodNavigator-USA. But, she acknowledged, “treasure hunting may be different than in the past with a lot of ordering and buying happening in virtual experiences.”

She says many brand and retailers are rising to the occasion with “really cool ways of bringing innovation forward and allowing consumers to see what is in store and online”​ so that they can discover and try new products and experiences as many continue to live at home while they await a coronavirus vaccine.

One key to driving discovery and effectively converting it to sales is to offer a “harmonious” ​experience across channels, by showing consumers the same products online and instore, Goldsmith says. She adds consumers also want a curated and personalized experience that excites them and explains to them why a replacement product is “cool”​ or better than a favorite standby that is not currently available.

10 trends to watch this summer

So, what is cool and should stores start stocking as the weather warms? Goldsmith says at KeHE’s recent virtual summer show 10 trends “came to life in a cool way,”​ including:

  1. Pets – ​KeHE predicted that pet food would be one of the fastest growing categories in the center store in 2020 based on its 25% growth in 2019. Consumer demand for premium pet food didn’t slow down during the pandemic, during which people spent more time with their pets or brought new pets into the home. Packaged Facts predicted in September that pet food sales would grow 7% to nearly $31b in 2020.
  2. Diversity & inclusion – ​In late 2019, KeHE launched its DIVERSEtrade program to source more products form women, minority-owned, LGBT certified and veteran-owned suppliers and “help them navigate distribution by removing barriers and increasing opportunities for success.”​ The social justice movement that captured mainstream attention last summer helped elevate consumer awareness and demand for these products.
  3. Whole-self wellbeing – ​The pandemic elevated health and wellness to a top priority for many consumers, helping drive sales of products with immunity claims or added functionality up 77% in the six months ending Aug. 9, 2020, KeHE notes in a recent blog post that cites SPINS data. The distributor notes consumers want products that will boost both their physical and mental health.
  4. Summer snacking – ​According to Mintel, 30% of people are snacking more during the pandemic thanks to increased stress, working from home and boredom. Popular snacks this summer will include plant-based meat snacks, sales of which are up 41%, according to Goldsmith. She adds refrigerated bars also are up 32%. Reimagined takes on trail mix and classic bulk bin snacks also will be popular, she said.
  5. Candy carnival – ​Many consumers have turned to sweets for comfort during the pandemic, but they don’t want to sacrifice their health goals. As such, SPINS data shows natural and specialty items amount to 13% of the candy category’s volume and are driving 100% of the segments growth. KeHE notes in a recent blog post that “the increasing need for better-for-you candy gives retailers a chance to lean into product innovation – putting a fresh twist on traditional treats without sacrificing taste.”
  6. Culinary curiosity – “We have seen a lot of folks in the kitchen who otherwise were not interested in being an at-home chef,”​ Goldsmith said. And they need inspiration, guidance and meal solutions.
  7. Next generation innovation – ​KeHE is opening the doors of its shows to brands that are too new and too young for distribution, because Goldsmith said the distributor wants to be a pathway to market, and “allow our retailers to get a peek at them as well as vote on would [they] bring this into [their] store. So, it’s a collective effort between us and our partners to bring the best in class to market.”
  8. Keeping cool – “This is always an essential in the hot summer months,”​ Goldsmith said. KeHE recognizes that while some consumers should be “feeling more upbeat these days,”​ they may also still be “more likely to ‘chill’ at home,”​ which is why the distributor notes in a blog post that a wide variety of frozen treats and refrigerated beverages are a must to keep consumers healthy, happy and entertained.
  9. Plant-based picnicking – ​According to KeHE, sales of plant-based foods rose to $5b in 2019 – a 29% increase from 2017. As this trend continues and becomes more refined consumers will look for more options for everyday life – both at home and “out” on socially distanced picnics.
  10. Elevated assortment – ​For KeHE this trend centers on its elevate program​, which highlights early stage brands in a “small and intimate”​ way by not exceeding 200. According to KeHE, the brands are selected for their innovation, ingredients, great taste, salability, company purpose and time in the market. Examples from the summer show include: Yaya’s Garden​, which makes frozen plant-based meals from fresh and local produce; Hunch​’s better-for-you snackable chocolate wafer bites; The Only Bean​’s lower carb pasta made from beans; and Keto Krisp​’s perfectly balanced protein bars with 3g of sugar, under 5g of net carbs and 10g each of fiber and protein.

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