When 2020 started, we had no idea what was in store for us. Now, just past one year into a global pandemic that completely changed the way we interact with just about every aspect of life, there are glimmers of hope that some normalcy may be returning to life as we know it.

That normalcy, however, probably won’t look like it did pre-Spring 2020. In fact, what we’re entering will most definitely be a “new normal.” As the pandemic hit last year, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry was turned upside down. Retailers and suppliers had to pivot on every aspect of their business, from how they sourced products to how they marketed those products. As it turns out, those changes weren’t temporary measures. 

Industry Trends

For CPG, they’ve become effective and sustainable tools that retailers and brands have incorporated into their success strategies, including digital transformation and online product discovery.

Digital transformation 

At the height of the pandemic, retailers and suppliers encountered several new challenges. Supply chains were disrupted, making many products scarce. More consumers than ever were turning to grocery delivery services to the point of overburdening retailers’ systems. And when they did place orders or even visit stores in-person, consumers were pantry stocking and engaging in such aggressive shopping that retailers struggled to keep shelves stocked. Yet business still carried on, and to move through the new restrictions, retailers and brands had to shift a lot of their business online—much more than they were already doing. CPG had already been slowly moving towards more digital business models, but the pandemic lit a fire under that transformation, and the industry won’t be turning back. Here are some ways CPG businesses have been partaking in a digital transformation

Online product discovery 

Travel was one of the first things to get cut when the pandemic hit, and you couldn’t go a week without hearing of yet another in-person trade show cancellation. But as aggressive shopping became a topic the industry needed to address, and keeping shelves stocked was a top priority, the industry pivoted and turned to online product discovery. This resulted in buyers and suppliers needing to connect despite the lack of in-person trade shows. Virtual trade shows filled some of that void, but those only happened every so often. RangeMe provided online product discovery for retail buyers and brands to connect. We saw a surge in new members and activity as brands and buyers fostered new partnerships through several product discovery initiatives such as online sourcing campaigns and ECRM’s ESI virtual face-to-face meetings. Online product discovery has become a staple in the industry and is now incorporated into buyer and supplier strategies worldwide. Not only is it a new avenue of discovery, but it also has the added benefit of convenience, enabling buyers and suppliers from all over to connect and meet without having to spend a lot of money and time traveling.

Product Trends 

Not only did strategies evolve over the past year to meet the needs of new business strategies, but also several retail categories found new favor with consumers and helped spark innovation. Below are a few of the top CPG categories that have emerged, and are here to stay:

Frozen foods 

A year in, and consumers have tamed some of the pantry-stocking shopping habits, but not entirely. They’re still purchasing frozen foods, for example, with gusto, as shown by the 21% spike in sales in 2020. Although restaurants are opening up for in-person dining, people are still eating at home, and frozen foods have become a staple in many of those homes. Manufacturers listened when consumers spoke, asking for products that met their needs and values, like plant-based or immunity-boosting products. Combined with the convenience factor of these products, frozen foods solidified their place in shoppers’ carts for the foreseeable future. 

On RangeMe, here are some of the frozen foods categories that grew since 2019 to April 2021: 

  • Frozen meals and sides grew 131.4% 
  • Frozen vegetables grew 101.6% 
  • Frozen meat grew 80.9%
  • Frozen pizza grew 76.7%
  • Frozen meat alternative (plant-based frozen foods) grew 75.8%

Personal Virus Protection 

Personal virus protection emerged as a new category in 2020. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant sprays played a boosting role in bringing the category into the spotlight as consumers stocked up, seeking a dose of extra protection in addition to hand washing. Sales of hand sanitizer jumped a whopping 600% in 2020. Consumers don’t seem to be cutting back on hand sanitizer consumption any time soon, as the product has become a staple in many peoples’ routines from carrying it with them when on-the-go to keeping stashes around the home. Retailers and other businesses also continue to offer sanitation stations for customer interactions prior to entering and exiting. At the peak of the pandemic, eOn Mist, launched its personal virus protection products when they realized hand sanitizing and disinfectant sprays were going out of stock at retailers across the country. Launching with a product that was in high-demand helped their brand pave the way for the personal virus protection category and helped them catch the eye of major retailers like Giant Eagle on RangeMe. 

This “new normal” we’re entering won’t stay the same for long as the CPG industry has seen enormous shifts in consumer behavior, buying trends, and operational strategies. But if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that the CPG industry is well-equipped to handle myriad curveballs, whether they’re as small as a shipping mishap or as large as a global pandemic.

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