According to Mintel, 71% of adults surveyed agree that the pandemic experience dramatically changed their perspective on life and three-quarters said they learned a lot about their life priorities due to the pandemic. At the same time, skyrocketing food prices due to inflation is prompting just under a third of consumers to plan to shop at lower-cost retailers while one in five expect to switch to less expensive alternatives, such as private-label products or frozen and canned food.
These shifts are creating new, and sometimes surprising, opportunities across grocery categories for manufacturers and retailers willing to evolve with shoppers, innovate to meet their changing needs, and educate them so they feel confident trying new things in the kitchen.
Still, many manufacturers and retailers are also facing their own set of challenges, including limited resources, supply chain constrains, mounting costs and, recently, rising elasticities that could threaten their market share or margins unless they can balance consumer needs with their own.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Mintel’s director of innovation and insight Lynn Dornblaser shares how the shifting landscape is influencing grocery shoppers and how this in turn is creating opportunities and challenges for industry stakeholders. She pulls back the curtain on the types of product innovations and claims that resonate with shoppers, looks at how sleepy store segments are being reinvigorated and shares where she sees the most untapped potential for the next few years.
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New attitudes about cooking
Whether Americans wanted to or not, many found themselves spending much more time in their kitchen during the pandemic than previously and, Dornblaser says, the lessons they learned and habits they picked up there continue to influence their approach to food.
“One of the things that we've learned during the, the pandemic is that we actually can successfully eat at home, you know, and that means so many different things. But, but we can do that. And we can, we can do it successfully, and we can have good, interesting food to eat. Now, obviously, some people really got into trying new things, whether it was sourdough, or baking… but I think most consumers just kept, kept themselves focused on getting food on the table as they needed to,” she explained.
She added that many people cook because they have to, not because they want to, and as much as these and all consumers may want to return to restaurants, she doubts they will with the same frequency as they did pre-pandemic.
She explains the top two reasons why are economic pressures related to rising inflation that makes eating at home less expensive and because restaurants haven’t fully recovered and many are not delivering the experience that consumers desire and that justifies the costs.
But just because consumers will continue to cook at home more for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean those who did so with gusto at the beginning of the pandemic will continue with the same fervor. Rather, Dornblaser predicts consumers who worked from home early in the pandemic and tried their hand at sourdough and creating restaurant quality meals will embrace more time-saving solutions going forward.
“The opportunity then for that group of consumers really feels like it's in products that perhaps can help them recreate a unique complex meal but in a very easy way. So that might be global simmer sauces, for example, or seasoning blends, or, you know, that sort of thing that that will help them recreate something interesting, but to be able to do it much more quickly,” she said.
Dornblaser notes that not everyone was able to work from home early in the pandemic and not everyone had the benefit of “extra savings” from not going out that they could redirect to their grocery bill. Many people continued to go into work and many people lost jobs and in those cases they often had less time and resources to spend on cooking – so their needs coming out of the pandemic and into a potential recession look very different.
“What they're coming out of the pandemic with is a, an even greater focus on value, looking for good value, and shopping, wherever, for whatever brands, they are going to give them that good value. So that's going to be things like shopping, discount supermarkets, shopping, hard discounters, like Aldi and Lidl. Buying work private label, you know, that sort of thing to be able to feed their families and do it economically,” she said.
Private label gains ground
On that note, Dornblaser said she believes during the pandemic all consumers were forced to try private label when it was the only option on the shelf and came to the realization that many private label products are just as good – if not better – than national brands.
And, she adds, their popularity may continue to rise given the current economic uncertainty. Indeed, retailers are responding to this by innovating more within private label. According to Mintel data, 34.9% of new foods and beverages introduced in 2021 were private label – up from 33.5% the year before and 29.6% in 2019.
Many of these products are promoted with claims calling out either their ‘premium’ status or their value, said.
Other claims resonating with consumers
The pandemic and current financial landscape are reshaping other marketing claims resonate with consumers, which Dornblaser notes also shines a light on where the biggest opportunities are for innovation.
For example, she explains in the decades leading up to the pandemic popular claims that have dropped off since 2019 include individual nutrient claims, such as for protein, and restrictive claims such as low, no or reduced fat, calories and sodium.
In their stead, Dornblaser said, claims that speak to the overall goodness of a product are resonating with consumers alongside sugar-related call-outs. These include plant-based, no-added sugar and sugar-free.
Areas for innovation
Whether by private label or brands, Dornblaser says areas ripe for innovation and new product launches coming out of the pandemic and moving into a period of economic uncertainty include time-saving and convenient solutions, better-for-you treats that balance physical and emotional health and nostalgic throwbacks.
Mintel is tracking several offshoots from these trends that are also ripe for innovation, such as a rising interest in noodles versus pasta because noodles are associated with more global flavors and can easily pair with a variety of flavorful sauces. Likewise, within healthier treat, Dornblaser says she sees opportunities for nostalgic flavors – like Little Debbies or Twinkies – but with modern twists and in new formats.
To learn more about these and other emerging areas that Mintel is tracking, visit mintel.com where there is a smorgasbord of insights available to everyone and opportunity to dig deeper with experts in a specific area.