It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the retail landscape. Not only has consumer buying behavior shifted as to how consumers are shopping, it’s also shifted what they’re buying. Consumers are forming new habits that will stick around long after the pandemic ends (whenever that may be), and these unprecedented times have changed how people think and what they value.

Brands and suppliers are paying careful attention to these shifts, as they shed light on forthcoming—or already here—trends, and giving insight into what consumers want, which ultimately aids suppliers on strategizing their new product development and launches. “Now is the time to heed this unprecedented wake-up call to be agile and relevant to consumers and customers—not just during the crisis, but also in the future,” the authors of an April 1 post write for Accenture. And you may be shocked to learn that what consumers want isn’t more toilet paper.

So, what are the trends affecting product launches in the time of COVID-19? Let’s take a look at a few that are making waves.

Personal virus protection is top of mind

With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbing daily, consumers are eager for any protection they can get. Mask-wearing is becoming the norm, but CPG has seen a boom with other product launches that have created a new category unto themselves—personal virus protection. eOn Mist, for example, was one of the first companies to launch into this new space, with a continuous surface spray sanitizing mist, and a continuous spray hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer launches have boomed in the past six months, as a way that people can keep virus protection on themselves at all times, and also in response to what—at the start of the pandemic—was a run on the product, making it hard to find. But now, “With Purell and other name-brand hand sanitizers being hard to come by during the pandemic, several new, never-heard-of-before brands are filling store shelves to meet the demand,” writes Amanda Capritto for c|net.

Comfort in the time of a pandemic

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many cities and states were under shelter-in-place orders, and so many restaurants and bars were closed, and so many consumers’ stress levels were steadily climbing, there was a deep need for comfort. And for many, that meant comfort foods, you know, the ones that give people a ray of happiness in otherwise dark times, like Cheetos and Oreos. Comfort foods are the trend that keeps on giving, as in-home ice cream sales have soared upwards of 15% and 26% in the first and second quarters of 2020, and there have been numerous launches of new chip flavors from national brands like Frito Lay (New York Style pizza-flavored chips, anyone?) as well as emerging brands with healthier-for-you ingredients, like lentils and vegetables.

Self-care is better-for-you, and vice versa

Consumers’ anxiety levels have gone through the roof since COVID-19 hit, and self-care, in turn, has taken on a life of its own. With retail outlets, salons, and the like closed for so long—and still closed for some—consumers who define self-care as “health and beauty products and procedures” went ahead and took the DIY approach. Tapping into that, Madison Reed, the direct-to-consumer company that sells subscription hair color products, launched Madison Reed Mr. at the beginning of the pandemic. The product line had already been in the works, but, says the company’s founder, they pushed forward because they understood there was a huge opportunity to be had with so many people at home for an undefined amount of time.

Nielsen also tracked an 80 percent rise in sales of nail treatments and polish remover in April, which follows the common notion that in times of crisis, while consumers may stay away from big-ticket items, less expensive indulgences, like nail care products, are still picked up. Several brands have hopped on this trend, and continue to launch new nail color lines, like OPI, Orly, and even luxury brand Gucci.

Over the past year, CBD has been making inroads into the self-care category, and that hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19. Healist Advanced Naturals, for one, went ahead with their planned launch of CBD products, noting that the benefits their products touted—sleep and calm—were two things consumers want these days. And while did move forward with the launch of their products, the company noted that some of their marketing had to change—ditching billboards, increasing influencer marketing—to better connect with people staying home.

Launching forward in the time of COVID

While there might be those who say that a pandemic is no time to launch a new product, there are yet others who would disagree. “In order to have the guts to push out your own product, have a think about the biggest issues the pandemic is throwing up,” writes  Sabri Suby, founder of digital marketing agency King Kong. “Then, flip them on their head and figure out how to turn them into an advantage.” Understanding what consumers want during these unprecedented times is critical for brands and suppliers as they determine which products will launch, and which ones might need to be shelved for the time being. But with CPG spending up nearly 10 percent since the start of this pandemic, consumers are still shopping and they still want new products. And perhaps, being so limited in where they can go and what they can do, they want those new products more than ever.

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