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Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the peak of panic buying and hoarding in March and April, grocery retailers have seen and are continuing to see significant growth in center store categories. For our latest Off the Shelf podcast, we talked about the success of the category during COVID-19, as well as some of the challenges and opportunities going forward in center store with Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader at Chicago-based IRI, a leading provider of data analytics and market research.
Lyons Wyatt, a recognized food and beverage thought leader in the CPG and retail industries and authority on consumer eating and shopping trends, noted that amidst all the devastation of the pandemic, there has been a silver lining for center store and CPG manufacturers.
“The iconic brands, that honestly were struggling for that 1 and 2% growth pre-pandemic, had an influx of new buyers that really is unprecedented,” she said. “And, God forbid, we don't have another pandemic, this is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these brands to really get out and build lasting connections. So while we won't have the types of growth we've had this year, we certainly have the potential for increased consumption of those brands and others through center store at a minimum till the end of this year, but what looks to be into '21 as well.”
After the initial run on cleaning supplies and paper goods, it’s been meals at home that have been driving center store sales.
“We all shifted our behavior from being on the go, going to work or being out and about, to then being thrust into the home and eating more meals at home,” said Lyons Wyatt. “When consumers were seeking these meal solutions or snack solutions, they turned to the center store. There's a lot of reasons for that. It might've been for the ingredients or a recipe. It could have been to ensure they had food in the pantry. But we witnessed center store roles evolving because of those home occasions.”
Dinner and breakfast occasions were big winners, according to Lyons Wyatt, along with the big increase in home baking, particularly during those first two months. “What's interesting is that hasn't stopped. So, yes, we saw this big surge in those that big eight-week period, probably around March 8th till April 25th. But since then, we see making dinner and breakfast still resonating. But in addition, snacking and beverages have realized growth.”
During the podcast, Lyons Wyatt also shared her thoughts on the rise of kid-focused products, shopping behaviors as restrictions ease in some places and tighten in others, the race for share of meal business, and the impact of health awareness on center store. Check out the podcast below for insights on these and other areas of opportunity for center store.
And be sure to take a look at IRI’s new report, “Covid-19 and Navigating the Path Ahead: Charting the Course for Continued Center Store Growth.”