With people stuck at home, businesses shut and a spanner thrown in the economy, last year resulted in unprecedented change for the US F&B industry. To explore those changes and what they mean for F&B retailers and manufacturers in 2021, Attest surveyed 2,000 US consumers.
The findings have been presented in a comprehensive report, which you can download for free. But to whet your appetite, why not hear what Tripp Hughes, Senior Director of Consumer Strategy at Organic Valley – one of the world’s largest organic consumer brands – has to say about eight of the top trends? Read his insight below or hear it straight from the horse’s mouth in our on-demand webinar.
US F&B trend #1 – Americans have embraced online grocery shopping
Nearly 48% of American consumers say they have regularly shopped for groceries online during the pandemic. According to Hughes, this shift to online means brands need to reconsider how they get noticed by shoppers.
“For years we’ve been so focused on shelf set and what the approachability is looking like as you’re coming up to the shelf,” he says. “It was all about your eight feet of view and how you’re going to make an impact there.
“Thinking about how you connect with the consumers and how you communicate with them in the digital marketplace is a radically different approach. Thank goodness for a lot of us, we had experience of starting with our retailer partners online. But it really forced us to rethink, making sure that we had the right verbiage in place to help with the searchability.”
US F&B trend #2 – People are spending less time in the supermarket
Fewer Americans are shopping for groceries in-store and those that do and spending less time there. Just over 51% of consumers say they’re spending less time browsing in grocery stores than they used to. Hughes says his own research has revealed that shoppers are missing the in-store experience.
“I just got out of some focus groups and it was interesting to be talking to some of these consumers about how they’re longing to get back in the grocery store. They shared how they really valued being able to have the experience of finding products or wandering up and down shelves and that it was a time for many to recharge.
“I know it can be a drag for others and they’re happy to be shopping online but I think we’re going to see a continued path forward where we have to pay attention to all these channels. We also have to make sure we’re working with our retailer partners and have the right portfolio in place for them at this time.”
US F&B trend #3 – Direct-to-consumer sales are growing
Consumers have sought out new ways to shop during the pandemic and many of them have tried going direct to their favorite brands for the first time. It’s something that looks set to be a growing trend; nearly 43% of American consumers say they’re likely to shop with a food or drink brand online in the next six months. Hughes says D2C gives brands an amazing opportunity to connect with consumers.
“As an F&B company, specifically for us as our products are highly perishable and need refrigeration, direct-to-consumer is a dream that only part of our line will ever hit. That’s sad. Many marketers out there are looking at how they’re leveraging their D2C portfolio opportunity. Because once you get that cycle going, their ability to connect and stay connected with the consumers is pretty incredible.
As well as looking at new ways to shop, Hughes adds that consumers have also been trying new brands: “For us, there has been this acceleration of new folks into the category. First of all, there were a lot of products out of stock so consumers were grabbing and trying brands that they might not have tried before. And then there was a lot of searching happening after the fact and saying, hey, who are these folk and what are they up to? So, for brands like us it was an opportunity to get into the hands of consumers we hadn’t reached before. Therefore, we had to be thinking strongly about how we connect with them and stay connected so that they’re coming back.”
US F&B trend #4 – Taste and quality trumps environmental concerns in purchase decisions
When we asked respondents to rank six product attributes in terms of how much they influence their purchasing decisions, we found the primary driver is taste and quality, while sustainability ranks fifth. Hughes says that it’s a difficult balancing act for brands trying to be both environmentally friendly and give consumers what they want.
“It’s an interesting conundrum, when you look at the high-level macro and you talk to audiences broadly, they’re concerned about climate change overall and they’re concerned about partnering with brands with strong ethos and environmental standards. That’s all well and good but when it comes down to understanding what’s going to happen within your category for your brand you’ve got to make sure you’re talking to the consumer in your space.
“We’ve been a leader in the sustainability space from day one. We came out thinking about a different way of bringing our product to market from the ground up and we realise that’s not always why consumers are going to choose us. Most of our impact environmentally as an organisation is coming from what we do on the farm, it’s coming from the green energy we’re using at the plant level and transportation but when we connect with consumers, it all kind of washes over their head. In general, they’re very interested in what can you do for me and my family?”
US F&B trend #5 – Consumers are demanding sustainable packaging
The vast majority of American consumers think it’s important that F&B manufacturers take steps to reduce packaging waste and make packaging recyclable. According to Hughes, putting a focus on packaging is one thing brands can do to engage consumers around environmental sustainability but efforts to be green mustn’t jeopardize the quality of the product.
“We have this balance on our internal teams between wanting to find that right packaging, that fits with the sustainability and ethos of the company. But at the same time consumers are demanding quality and taste. Those two things don’t always balance and there are going to be trade-offs that come into play. If we’re not delivering first and foremost on quality and taste, what we’re doing in the sustainability realm is going to be a distant second.”
US F&B trend #6 – People are spending more on groceries
While 31% of consumers have seen a reduction in household income, 39% of people say their grocery spend has gone up during the pandemic. There have been a number of categories to benefit from this increased spending, including cleaning products, pantry goods and convenience foods, while others, like premium foods have lost out.
“When we look at these net changes across the board, these are huge numbers,” says Hughes. “The dynamics that shifted last year were kind of nuts. Some of these are predictable as folks stepped more heavily into cleaning and household and making sure that their pantries were stocked up. Convenience is another secret spot continuing to drive value with consumers.
“Brands still have a huge opportunity to continue to focus on what drives value for their consumers. Maybe at this moment premium and luxury is dialing back but there is a subset there; 20% who have increased their spending. That’s still pretty significant and it’s about understanding who that audience is and what they’re looking for. They’re not able to eat out at restaurants as much so maybe they’re willing to pay more on a premium food experience at home?”
US F&B trend #7 – Americans want to eat more healthily
60% of US consumers would like to eat more healthily in 2021. This focus on improving their diets is driving spend on fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as interest in plant-based foods. Hughes says the pandemic has made people think about the role diet plays in personal health.
“That was a major wakeup call,” he says. “Although there was already a big segment in the US who are in tune with food and beverage and the connection with their own personal health, a new audience really stepped into that space. Tracking them on their learning journey and meeting them at the right point is a great opportunity for F&B brands.
“I think fitness and mental wellbeing is a key piece to this too. Again, it’s a big opportunity for food and beverage companies to be continuing to think about what they are doing through their product portfolio and segmentation to help consumers really answer some of these components.”
US F&B trend #8 – There’s growing opportunity for food innovation
The top areas for innovation in F&B are products with added protein and probiotics, as well as plant-based meat and milk alternatives. This is against a backdrop of growing interest in the flexitarian diet; the number of Americans who describe themselves as flexitarian has risen from 13.1% in 2019 to 22% in 2021.
“People’s concerns about plant-based and the shift to flexitarian, those are all based in consumers looking to find and maintain a better balance. It’s a big opportunity space, consumers are thinking about it more than ever before so it’s super exciting for brands like Organic Valley. A lot of other great brands out there are also stepping in and figuring out, how do we connect with and find the right formulation that the consumers want?
“We’ve been working on our innovation pipeline several years out and what’s happening right now is causing some small tweaks. But I think it reemphasizes the urgency and need to continue to bring some of our core products to market. We’ll probably be looking at products along the lines of health and wellness but also paying attention to consumer needs for convenience and taste too.”
Summing up the many trends uncovered in the report, Organic Valley’s Tripp Hughes says: “There are so many different trend accelerations that are happening and that have popped up over this last year, it’s a great moment for brands to make sure they’re in tune with what those key opportunities are around honing and refining their value positioning with consumers.”
Hungry for more? Get your free download of the report below…