The following is a guest post from Daniel Folkman, vice president of business at goPuff, a consumer technology platform for instant needs, delivering thousands of everyday essentials to customers in 500 cities from 200 facilities.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the food and beverage world was in a constant state of reflection, borne by the ever-shifting demands of the consumer palate. Now, with consumer purchasing habits changing rapidly and dramatically during the pandemic — bearing both immediate and long-term implications — the need for current and effective data is more important than ever.
In order to stay ahead of fast-changing consumer preferences and understand the full scope of what drives purchases, marketers and manufacturers must constantly evaluate new information, including insights into consumer purchasing behaviors that are largely hidden from traditional point-of-purchase data sources.
As a consumer tech instant needs category creator that stocks over 2,500 products in 200 facilities delivering to customers in 500 cities nationwide, goPuff analyzed purchase data from 2019 and 2020. This data demonstrates how consumer habits shifted before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as implications for the long-term. We have identified the following five trends that CPG companies should look out for.
For many healthy eaters, traditional snacks still make the cut: Health and wellness foods had consistent sales increases, but even healthy consumers want the occasional traditional snack food to satisfy their cravings. In fact, 24% of customers who ordered a health food item last year also bought a traditional snack in the same purchase order. The top five search terms used by goPuff shoppers (“candy,” “chips,” “ice cream,” “water” and “milk”) remain unchanged against the pre-COVID-19 period. While there is observable movement in a few specific product categories, existing goPuff customers have largely maintained their usual shopping behavior. De-emphasize salt and sweet snacks and you’ll still be missing the majority of the convenience market.
Big demand across snack categories, with brand preference a key driver: Demand for comfort food has spiked since the pandemic started in the U.S., with chips, chocolate and candy all seeing notable rises in sales. In the chip category, Utz has experienced continuous week-over-week growth. Hershey's specifically saw a large increase in orders in March with a 23% increase in just one week, and since then, non-chocolate candy orders have averaged 10% weekly growth. Shopping behavior within the ice cream category has shifted from pints to novelties and handhelds, as consumers likely relax on stocking up and lean more into individual servings for immediate consumption.
Don’t get boxed in to your standard packaging ideas: Even in CPG, the medium can be the message. Consumers are looking for new experiences, and packaging can often satisfy the desire to express individuality. For example, sales of boxed and canned wines increased 115% in 2019 and accelerated throughout the year. Consumer interest in environmentally-sustainable packaging should continue this trend in the coming year.
Energy drinks gaining momentum: The energy drinks category – led by established brands Red Bull and Monster – was growing before the pandemic and continued to surge as much of the nation became entrenched in working from home. Monthly energy drink sales have increased 210% since January, with the largest jump coming in April, which saw an 84% month-over-month increase in sales over March. Emerging newcomers have taken advantage of the lower barrier toentry within the category, with Reign in particular seeing a 19% jump in orders from April to May 2020.
Out with the fresh, in with the frozen: Welcome fast-casual cooking. Shoppers will always prefer fresh meat and produce over canned and frozen alternatives, as long as they are available. Following COVID-19 however, we predict many shoppers will have lessened their aversion to frozen options. Pandemic-induced behavioral changes may open the door to products and brands that previously could not establish a foothold in the fresh food space. Instead of leaving the store empty handed when a certain item is unavailable, we expect shoppers to be more willing to seek frozen alternatives in the post-pandemic time.
Food is already among the most personal of consumer items and food delivered to one’s home reaches even closer. The growing demand for choice, speed and value makes reaching the consumer more important than ever. Their demands are reflective of general consumer needs in the digital economy and it remains essential for FMCG food brands to leverage to-the-minute purchasing behavior insights within their marketing visions for the rest of 2020.
As seen in behavioral changes over the past months, Americans have continued to adapt their behavior to fit the new reality. Brands should take time to identify how they too fit into this new reality and how they can connect with and support this changing consumer.