From the trend lists: Four opportunities to explore in 2021

From the trend lists: Four opportunities to explore in 2021

Trend forecasts abound as the calendar turns from 2020 to 2021, and among the most frequent topics have been e-commerce, family meals, packaging and the function of food.

Given the emphasis on social distancing amid the pandemic, online grocery shopping has reached a level it wasn’t expect to hit for years, and surveys indicate that the usage of pickup and delivery services will remain significantly elevated above pre-pandemic levels.

Nielsen reports that 15 million new buyers have started to shop online and that the segment makes up 11% of total grocery sales. The company also found that 50-60% of U.S. shoppers who made their first e-commerce purchase between March and October of this year have already made a repeat purchase in the online channel.

Time-saving is one of the top reasons cited by U.S. shoppers (29%) regarding why they are opting to shop more online, according to Nielsen.

Consulting firm Breakthrough Solutions conducted a consumer survey this summer and found that more than 50% of shoppers buy less fresh produce than they do in-store and that they are less likely to try new products when they buy online. There is also a perception that there are fewer fresh produce options online versus in-store.

In its trends report, Breakthrough Solutions recommends that brands will need to find ways to stay top-of-mind in the growing online channel to remain relevant.

Fulfillment of online orders is another area to watch. The Fall 2020 U.S. Online & In-Store Grocery Shopping Study from Retail Feedback Group shows pickup has increased significantly, from 47% of online orders in 2019 to 51% in April 2020 to 54% in October. Delivery, by contrast, has dipped from 53% in 2019 to 49% in April and 47% in October.

Retail Feedback Group also found that, as people use online grocery services more, their satisfaction level with the experience tends to increase.

Among first-time users, the average score is a 4.19 out of 5. Among those who’ve used the services 2-5 times, the average score is 4.26. Among consumers who’ve grocery shopped online more than 5 times but less than 20, the average is 4.59, and for the group who has used online grocery services 20 times or more, the average score is 4.72.

According to the study, Amazon still tops the rankings in customer experience for different facets of online ordering, but others have also seen gains.

“As online shopping stabilized over the last several months, overall and channel satisfaction improved,” Brian Numainville, principal of RFG, said in a news release. “Walmart benefited most from the surge in online shopping, showing continued growth, while supermarket shoppers slipped downward with the lowest percentage of shoppers, compared to Walmart and Amazon, indicating they plan to purchase grocery online in the coming year.

“However, with many shoppers continuing to shop online and in-store, supermarket retailers should continue to invest in both to remain relevant and attract new customers,” Numainville said.

The study showed plenty of opportunities for all retailers to improve the online shopping experience, however, from ease of navigation and ability to identify sale items to quality and freshness standards and value perception. Marketing, communication and web design all play a critical role in increasing satisfaction in those areas.

Packaging power

Before the start of the pandemic, the biggest topic in packaging was how to eliminate it to whatever extent possible due to sustainability concerns, particularly with plastic.

Amid the pandemic, however, packaged produce is seeing increased popularity. Reasons for the shift are thought to include consumer perceptions about food safety, shoppers favoring grab-and-go over bulk in order to get through stores more quickly, retailers using more packaged product to keep departments nice with less labor, and more.

Breakthrough Solutions, in its trends report, noted that, despite the renewed appreciation for packaging, consumers still care about sustainability.

Also, with the increased usage of online grocery services, packaging as a brand communication tool has never been more important, the firm noted.

“While balancing the food safety, product protection, branding and sustainability needs for produce packaging poses a cost-management challenge for produce companies, creating new packaging in 2020 has provided additional branding opportunities for communicating directly with consumers, particularly in online channels,” according to the Breakthrough Solutions trend report. “When the alternative is simply a commodity photo, branded, distinctive packaging can strengthen a produce supplier’s presence online. Meanwhile, the impact of packaging at home can include branding, messaging, recipes, reasons to repurchase, and cross-selling of new or other products on the package.”

Family meals

More households are consuming more meals at home as restaurants and schools have been closed for varying amounts of time during the pandemic, and that trend is expected to continue into the new year.

Marketing company What If Media Group surveyed 18,000 U.S. consumers in early December and found that 46.1% of them plan to spend more on groceries in 2021. The firm attributes that outlook to a combination of consumers expecting higher prices, spending more time at home for work and school, and eating fewer meals outside the home.

As far as specific kinds of foods that will likely be popular, the annual trends report from Frieda’s Specialty Produce points out that comfort will be king after a challenging 2020, so ingredients and dishes that evoke that feeling will probably see increased interest.

At the same time, according to the Whole Foods Market annual trends list, people will want to shake things up after nearly a year of making the same dishes over and over, so ideas for new twists on old favorites will be welcome.

Function of food

The spike in citrus sales this year showed that many people connected the dots between oranges, their association with vitamin C, vitamin C being beneficial for the immune system, and a stronger immune system positioning people better against disease.

Retailers expect to see more of the same in 2021: consumers seeking out foods for the specific benefits they are known to confer.

“Superfoods, probiotics, broths and sauerkrauts” and “functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens” are among the items that will feed this trend as the “lines (blur) between the supplement and grocery aisles,” according to the Whole Foods trend report.

The Fresh Market, in its annual report on specialty food trends, mentioned root vegetables including ginger and turmeric as two more examples of “culinary superheroes.” Their antioxidants make them ideal additions for green juice, stir fry, soups and teas, according to the company.