Virtual Natural Products Expo West

SPINS data shines light on why ‘consumers returned to real dairy in droves during the pandemic’

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/Leonidas Santana
Source: Getty/Leonidas Santana

Related tags Dairy Meat & Seafood grass-fed dairy SPINS Expo west

During the pandemic, sales of dairy and animal protein grew off strong foundations, but many of the claims that traditionally drove consumer interest in the categories slowed or performed unevenly – revealing shifting priorities that could influence future marketing, according to SPINS and trends data presented last week at virtual Natural Products Expo West.

Sales of meat, poultry and seafood across frozen, refrigerated and prepared segments grew 14% while sales of dairy milk, cheese, creamer and yogurt increased 8% in the 52 weeks ending April 16, 2021, according to SPINS data.

While this may not seem as dynamic as the 27% increase in plant-based meat brands or the 18% increase in plant-based milk, cheese, creamer and yogurt that SPINS reported for the same period, it is still a notable lift off a large base, explained Adrienne Smith, senior food business reporter at New Hope Network.

She explained that “consumers returned to real dairy in droves during the pandemic”​ in part because they were attracted to its dietary  nutritional profiles but also the industry’s advances and innovations around sustainability, organic, regenerative agriculture, ethical sourcing, humane treatment of animals and increased transparency and traceability.

“All those things are really driving trust in dairy,”​ she said.

Scott Dicker, marketing data analyst with SPINS, agreed but noted some of these claims are more effective than others.

“When we look at dairy, you will see a lot of the label claims that have historically driven sales are actually growing at less than the average of these departments,”​ he said.

For example, compared to the category’s overall 8% growth in the 52-weeks ending April 16, labeled organic ingredients, labeled non-GMO, and labeled no-added hormones all grew only 4% to $3bn, $3.9bn, and $1.8bn respectively.

Animal welfare claims, on the other hand, far outpaced the category – albeit off a smaller based -- growing 13% to $351m, Dicker said, explaining “consumers are looking for these types of better-for-animal products.”

This is true, too, of meat brands, he added, noting that products with animal welfare claims increased 18% to $766m versus the overall meat category’s 14% increase.

Other high-performing claims that helped drive meat sales included labeled organic ingredients (up 15% to $498m), labeled non-GMO (up 22% to $323m) and labeled grass fed (up 25% to $246m). Labeled free range or pasture raised, on the other hand, underperformed the category at only 5% growth to $192m, according to SPINS.

Grass-fed claims perform unevenly across categories, reflecting consumer confusion

Grass-fed, which is often associated with improved animal welfare, also helped drive sales of meat – growing 25% to $246m, but it was less impactful in dairy where it grew only 4% to $494m, Dicker noted.

Grass-fed’s uneven impact could be due to consumer confusion about the claim, Smith hypothesized.

Pointing to the results of a 1,000 person study conducted by the New Hope Next Data Insights team, 46% of consumers reported caring about grass-fed claims – a far higher percentage than the 39% who care about USDA organic, the 35% who prioritize free-range and 34% who look for Certified Humane, she noted.

“There is still a lot of confusion among consumers about what these things actually mean. Terms such as grass-fed, 100% grass-fed, grass-finished, pasture-raised, certified organic are often seen as interchangeable, when in fact the implications for environmental sustainability and animal welfare, among other things, vary greatly from one to another,”​ Smith explained.

She called on natural product retailers to step in an help educate consumers about the nuances of the terms, which could help bolster sales of some products making certain claims.

Despite consumer confusion and the uneven impact of grass-fed claims, they are showing up across categories in dairy, Smith noted.

For examples, she pointed to the Lifeway Organic Grassfed Kefir, Annabella Buffalo Dulce de Leche, Lewis Road Creamery New Zealand Grass fed Salted Butter and Truly Grass-Fed Ghee Clarified Butter.

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