How did COVID-19 change the rules on food innovation?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Mar 15, 2021
Denise Leathers

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer magazine.

In normal times, sales data from the past year would identify new opportunities for innovation. What happens when almost every supermarket product saw record growth simply for being in stock?

What consumers want during the pandemic and what they’re likely to want after also is probably very different. Many broad pre-COVID trends will rebound but may manifest themselves differently, thanks to shifts in consumer values.

“You can’t build the future looking at the last 52 weeks,” confirms Mike Urness, founder and managing partner of the Seurat Group. “Product developers need an understanding of the whys, not the whats [of the data] to predict where categories are heading.”

Here are some trends expected to drive product development in the coming year:

  1. Togetherness: After a year of social distancing, virtual celebrations and canceled events, consumers are likely to put a high value even on everyday get-togethers with friends and loved ones, according to the Seurat Group’s report “2021: Planning for Post-Pandemic Growth.”
  2. Health and wellness: “Immunity boosting” and “fortified with vitamins and minerals” have been two of the most popular health claims, appearing on products like smoothies, berries, salmon, mushrooms and broccoli, according to Andrew Moberly, director of category solutions at Daymon. Given the ongoing threat from coronavirus, “I believe they’ll remain vital to consumers as they look for ways to proactively maintain their health.”
  3. Societal care: The pandemic, combined with a steady stream of disasters linked to climate change, is only raising consumers’ apprehension about the health of the planet.
  4. Convenient home cooking: Sixty percent of consumers expect to still eat at home more in 2021 and beyond, says Mr. Moberly. “So, shoppers will continue to look for quick and convenient solutions … that cut down on meal prep while providing flavorful health-driven options that alleviate meal boredom.”
  5. Global flavors: “As the world becomes more connected, we expect to see continued growth in global flavors,” says Tricia White, VP of product development at Schwan’s Co.
  6. Indulgence: Post-pandemic indulgence probably won’t look the same as it did early in the crisis when consumers allowed themselves to pig out on comfort foods. More “permissible indulgence,” especially in support of dietary restrictions and lifestyle diets, is what consumers are after nowadays, reports IRI.
  7. Snacking: With parents and kids homebound, the shift to all-day snacking accelerated during the pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways did the pandemic muddle the traditional product development process? Which pre-pandemic trends remain strong; which have been altered for the long term?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining event that will influence how consumers and shoppers behave for years."
"I’m a believer in the idea that there will be an attempt to return to normal, whatever normal was ... that trends that were strong before the pandemic will continue."
"About analyzing prior sales trends, the past year’s relationships are practically useless."

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8 Comments on "How did COVID-19 change the rules on food innovation?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I don’t know that we can even guess (or guess well) at what trends will remain strong and what will change. I’m a believer in the idea that there will be an attempt to return to normal, whatever normal was. That would suggest that trends that were strong before the pandemic will continue. On the other hand, I’d like to think we’ve learned some stuff over the past year. As purely a matter of survival, many have learned to cook, or cook better, and that may not disappear. Suggesting products that help you be a better/more interesting cook will be in play more than before.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Where do we even start? The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining event that will influence how consumers and shoppers behave for years. People around the globe have been forced – or have chosen – to change their buying habits. “Forced change” accelerated the adoption of e-commerce and caused shoppers to expand their repertoire of retailers and brands as they experienced trouble at their regular stores. Simply put, during COVID-19 consumers have become more promiscuous in their shopping. To account for this – especially for new products – make sure you tell a clear, compelling story and make sure the product benefit is instantly recognized, understood, and persuasive.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The pandemic not only has been an accelerant of all things digital, it has also accelerated the product innovation cycles for food. Before the pandemic, we were seeing the emergence of health, wellness, and organic food trends. With our lives shifting to a work and study at home model, food providers have had to keep up with the shifting consumer behaviors.

We have witnessed an unprecedented agile innovation cycle, where health and wellness priorities have permeated across snacks, healthier food options, prepared foods, and QSRs. Also there has been an increased awareness of the importance of health and how healthy eating choices profoundly impact our lives.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that the food manufacturers pay even closer attention to the shifting consumer landscape.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Mike Urness says it all: “You can’t build the future looking at the last 52 weeks … Product developers need an understanding of the whys, not the whats to predict where categories are heading.”

I will add that one cannot build the future looking at consumer reactions in the 52 weeks post pandemic. There will be many actions by people that are simply a whipsaw from what they are or are not experiencing now.

The key questions are, what did the consumer try during the pandemic and what will stick and what did the consumer forego and find they won’t return to?

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

While I will not comment on the trends, one of the biggest pandemic effects on the traditional product development process is the inability to sample or have consumers try new products. Particularly for products whose scents, tastes, appearance, etc. are difficult to describe and must be experienced. The desire for contactless retail by consumers makes it difficult to get necessary consumer awareness and feedback on new products. As an example consider how boring Costco sampling is these days. CPG companies need to reexamine methods to garner such feedback and trial.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

COVID-19 made food innovation include rules on delivering a touch-free solution, with superior, sanitary packaging to the consumer. BOPIS became a standard, and the retailers who also offered robust delivery solutions are better prepared for a COVID-19-sensitive future.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

The problem is that the pandemic really didn’t muddle food innovation. Most retailers had little idea of where they would go after the pandemic affected us, and hence have largely kept to the same innovations they had planned out a year ago. These included the typical curbside pickup, BOPIS, inventory process improvement, supplier curation, and of course — digital.

Some retailers were pushed hard as non-essential retailers, others were basking in the fallout from adjacent sub-verticals. Only recently have retailers started putting deeper thought into where they need to go next, especially as they emerge from the throes of the pandemic.

The important factor is that retailers don’t have the crystal ball on consumer behavior — and the concepts shared are consumer impacts, but don’t necessarily translate into consumer behaviors. We’re in a transition, and the only constant will be that it’s going to be different.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

About analyzing prior sales trends, the past year’s relationships are practically useless. I have been advising clients to hit the pause button on their marketing mix modeling for that reason. Analysis of social media data and perhaps search trends would be more instructive, but I also think marketers need to rely on good old fashioned surveys and concept testing

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining event that will influence how consumers and shoppers behave for years."
"I’m a believer in the idea that there will be an attempt to return to normal, whatever normal was ... that trends that were strong before the pandemic will continue."
"About analyzing prior sales trends, the past year’s relationships are practically useless."

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