Socially Distancing for the Holidays
With Halloween happening in only a couple weeks, candy empires are navigating how to deal with a holiday season filled with uncertainty due to health and safety concerns related to Covid-19. The holiday, which accounts for 13% of annual spending in the candy category, is normally celebrated with face-to-face traditions like trick-or-treating or costume parties, both of which have become pandemic-unfriendly, particularly in areas where the virus rate is climbing. "I'd be lying if I didn't say there were some sleepless nights trying to get it right," said Tim Lebel of Mars Wrigley, the company’s President of U.S. Sales who is in charge of preparing for the Halloween season years in advance. In a survey conducted by The National Retail Federation, only 58% of participants responded that they would celebrate this year, and many of those who want to partake in Halloween festivities will be finding new ways to have fun while socially distancing. However, as of last month candy sales in the grocery channel were up 17% year-over-year, and brands are cautiously optimistic that the situation isn’t as dire as they originally feared. Many candy-makers are using Easter, which was already affected earlier this year, as a guide to help them strategize for Halloween. "There is a certain amount of normalcy and joy that I think people are seeking now more than ever," said Ferrero’s VP of category management and shopper insights Phil DeConto. "This will not be ordinary circumstances, but I don't think that we should expect underperformance on the part of [our] brands."
With Thanksgiving coming up as well, consumer research for brands like Butterball and Hormel has found that 70% of households will also be changing their plans for Thanksgiving Day. 30% of households plan on hosting only their immediate family this year, up from 18% in 2019, and smaller gatherings are making it tough for retailers and farmers to predict and deliver the size of turkey that will be in demand. The contracts to buy certain bird sizes are written at least a year in advance, and growing the birds takes months of preparation and care. Stew Leonard Jr., the owner of a chain of seven Stew Leonard’s grocery stores in the northeast, expects to sell about 20% fewer turkeys this year because of the impact of the pandemic.
Despite the challenges, brands across industries agree that these holidays are staples for Americans and one way or another, there will be celebrations for both classic occasions.
New Products and Partnerships, and Investments
Del Monte is launching a line of meatless pocket pies that feature a cauliflower crust and one serving of vegetables, a product that the brand says is aimed towards busy individuals who want to eat well.
Frozen dessert brand Dream Pops is bringing out vegan chocolate bites, the latest addition to their lineup that has earned them triple-digit growth in the past years. It’s the brand’s next step in branching out their offerings to reach across the confection category. Founder David Greenfeld explains, “At the outset, many folks labeled us a singular frozen novelty or pop business, but we see ourselves as a brand that spans across the confectionery category as a whole — frozen, refrigerated, and shelf-stable — the same way that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have targeted alternative meat.”
Later this month dairy brand Boursin will launch a plant-based version of its customer-favorite Garlic & Herbs cheese spread on Amazon Fresh, with physical retail set for 2021.
Dairy company Bel Group, owner of Babybel, is developing plant-based alternatives for all of its core product lines, with hopes to launch dairy-free Babybel and The Laughing Cow in the U.S. next year, as well as a new fully plant-based international brand.
After a successful launch in the U.K. in 2018, Ceder’s is bringing its non-alcoholic gin to the U.S. in four flavors.
Catering to consumers seeking healthier, plant-based alternatives of their favorite products, Bolthouse Farms is introducing Wunderoots, carrot-based products ranging from hot dogs to pasta to rice.
Driscoll’s is partnering with farming company Plenty Unlimited to merge the former’s berry expertise and genetics with the latter’s indoor farming technology to produce berries that are uniform in flavor and size. Indoor farming is still an emerging industry but has gained traction in the past few months, expected to become a staple in the agricultural sphere because of its environmental benefits.
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his foundation, the Julie and Kirk Cousins Foundation, is partnering with Hy-Vee Inc. to release a limited edition Vikings-themed cereal. The proceeds will be donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities.
Plant-based food company Livekindly announced a $135 million funding round.
Goya Foods is investing $80 million into expanding their Brookshire, Texas facilities and doubling their production capacity as consumer demand increases.
Australia-based Change Foods, which opened a U.S. headquarters in San Francisco last year, is developing a way to recreate dairy products from microorganisms like yeast and fungi and make them vegan, hoping to be ready for purchase by 2022.
eCommerce Prepares Brands for Battle
Moves made in 2019 to increase the eCommerce presence of CPG brands helped them face the pandemic’s obstacles in 2020, according to research from the Food Industry Association. According to a survey of retailers, 67% experimented with online retail last year, a form of distribution that became necessary earlier this year when Covid-19 forced many brick-and-mortar stores to close their doors. Challenges like increased competition among brands and supply chain issues are expected to continue for the rest of the year, although shifts in consumer behavior were viewed positively by 75% of participants.
The challenges may not be over though, as a new report from Sports and Leisure Research Group found that Americans fear new supply chain interruptions due to a potential second wave of Covid-19 and a contentious presidential election, with more than half saying they are or plan to stockpile groceries again. Acosta CEO Darian Pickett warned brands that with another shutdown, retailers and brands should prepare for a renewed surge in product demand and the need for online and delivery options.
Chef Kroger to the Rescue
Kroger is helping households cut food waste and save money with Chefbot, an AI tool on Twitter that allows consumers to tweet a photo of three ingredients they have in their kitchen to Chefbot, who will then provide recipe recommendations from Kroger’s website that incorporate them into the dish. The grocery chain has reported that three out of four consumers are eating multiple home cooked meals each day, and 35% have become more conscious of food waste since the start of the pandemic. Kroger’s has set its own goal of hitting zero food waste by 2025, and wants this new tool to “underscore our commitment and belief that everyone should have access to fresh, affordable and delicious food," says marketing VP Mandy Rassi.
Tasting the Season
As the seasons change, so are consumers’ palates. McCormick’s “Flavor Forecast” has identified cinnamon, chilies, and chia seeds as important flavor profiles for this year’s holiday season. It noted four major themes for upcoming flavor innovation, including sweet and seasonal satisfaction, spicy revolution, global finds, and empowered eating and drinking.
Yearly favorites like pumpkin pie and turmeric were also on this list, and Yelp has reported that searches for foods like pumpkin spice lattes and apple cider donuts are climbing as the fall season kicks in. Nestlé has also added two seasonal flavors Starbucks coffee to their portfolio, toffee nut latte and holiday blend, which will appear in select grocers and online later this year. “In 20 years of forecasting, we’ve identified trends that have and will shake up the way we cook, flavor and eat,” said McCormick’s executive research chef Gary Patterson. “These discoveries impacted food and drink culture in the most exciting ways. From travel and health to pleasure and indulgence, it’s about how these things connect us to food and drinks while also offering sensory delight to create the ultimate experience.”
The Pandemic Brings Plant-Based
Vegan and plant-based products are the latest craze in the food world, and the pandemic has launched their rising popularity to new heights as consumers search for more options in those sectors. In the frozen food category alone, vegan options are expected to help bring the global market to $65 billion by 2024, with brands like Good Catch and Morningstar Farms both recently releasing new frozen vegan offerings. In the meat category, Nielsen data shows that fresh plant-based meat has roughly doubled in year-over-year sales every month this year, dwarfing the slight increase the traditional meat saw in the same period. While plant-based varieties account for a much smaller portion of annual income than animal-based meat, early signs point to a promising growth curve for the industry. Kroger is also planning to add 50 new products to its plant-based line that it launched last September, bringing its count to over 75 food and beverage products by the end of the year and cementing its place in the category as it continues to grow.
Plant-based meat brand Tofurky is suing the state of Louisiana over what it describes as an “unconstitutional” ban on meat terminology like “burger” on vegan meat packaging. Other states have implemented similar bans that have not held up well when challenged, with Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri all awaiting verdicts on lawsuits brought against them for their labeling laws. While the state argues that the ban is meant to protect the agricultural industry and consumers from experiencing confusion about the ingredients in their food, the lawsuit argues that there is no evidence that that has been an issue. Louisiana is also the second state to prohibit products like minced cauliflower from being called “rice,” although it’s unclear if rice manufacturers will challenge that as well. With the popularity of meat substitutes and alternatives like cell-based meat, these types of lawsuits are increasing as brands fight for fair packaging rights. Jessica Almy of the Good Food Institute says, “Consumers deserve better than lawmakers passing condescending laws that try to dictate what Louisianans buy. Consumers are no more likely to believe that ‘veggie burgers’ contain cow meat than Girl Scout cookies contain Girl Scouts.”