“We think it's especially relevant that these Pacesetter products were developed during the height of the pandemic,” said Joan Driggs, VP of content and thought leadership for Circana. “Many of the needs that companies thought they were solving for in 2020 and 2021 were much different than those that consumers were addressing in 2022.”
Top product launches of 2022
Each year, Circana (formerly, IRI) with its Pacesetters report looks at the top 100 best-selling new food and beverage products based on one-year sales and starts the tracking when the product “achieves 30% distribution within total US MULO or multi outlets” and also provides the top 10 food and beverage brands for the year, which includes alcoholic drinks, Driggs said.
When it comes to the top product launches of 2022, beverages were more prevalent in the top-selling placements than food.
Top of the list was energy drink Alani Nu at $228.4m in yearly sales, followed by Dr. Pepper Zero Sugar with $169.3m, while Mtn Dew Spark came in sixth with $98.2m, Red Bull Green Edition at $77.9m, and Gatorlyte at $74.2m. The only two non-beverage products were Chick-fil-A sauces at $140.4m, which came in third, and vegetarian- and vegan-friendly brand Tattooed Chef in seventh with $93.3m in sales.
In addition to reporting overall top brands, Circana also shares the top brands from a convenience store perspective, which similarly found strong demand for RTD beverages. The top three brands/products for the channel were Electrolit with $206.2m in sales, Red Bull Green Edition at $187.2m, and Gatorlyte at $105.3m.
“We have a bit of a continuation of what we've been talking about the past few years in that beverages are continuing to dominate with eight of the top 10 reflecting some sort of refreshment energy or alcoholic beverage, which again is all in keeping with this idea of we're still entertaining at home. We're creating new moments looking for those new experiences,” said Lisa Maas, principal and practice lead of innovation for Circana.
What product launches tell us about today's consumer
Circana also found some common areas where brands are focusing their efforts, which include five key areas: elevated experiences, simplicity and sustainability, empowering self-care, iconic brands on the move, and performance boost.
Consumers are looking for "ultra-convenience" and unique ingredients, Maas said. For instance, Tattooed Chef was one of the items highlighted in the Pacesetter report for its plant-based meals that used "ingredients that consumers would really be hard pressed to source or cook with on their own," she added.
Consumers also are increasingly looking for bold flavors with products like Purple Carrot's Fiesta Pepper Bowl with butternut squash, potatoes, peppers and jalapenos and Nissin Foods' Hot & Spicy Fire Wok instant ramen. Additionally, they are expecting iconic brands to go beyond their initial offerings, like Cinnabon sandwiches and pastries, Driggs explained.
"There's a consumer base that's seeking out hot and spicy profiles across food products, whether that be meals or snacks, side dishes or ingredients," she said. She added, "Even the most brand loyal consumers want their favorite brands to launch something new. Nearly a third of pacesetter respondents state that products from a trusted brand or manufacturer is important to their purchasing decision."
Consumers have high expectations when it comes to health-related products, and they “continue to raise the bar, whether it's a new level of hydration, sustained energy or nutritional benefits,” Maas said. In the energy drink category, Alani Nu has splashed onto the scene, while Celsius continues to see strong growth.
And while these are some of the popular categories and brands on the move, consumer behaviors are changing due to several economic factors, which might see the return of more traditional mealtimes she noted. This runs counter to the increase in snacking occasions and fragmented mealtimes, as reported in Mondelez’s snacking report from earlier in the year.
"Consumers are still looking to create meal experiences at home as well as to combat increasing costs," Maas said. "Circana's data assets now include very deep out-of-home and food service insights, and we know that the average service costs are more than four times that of those at-home occasions... That absolute dollar gap is also widely over the past few years, so [it's] increasingly becoming difficult to afford spending money at restaurants."