Health and cleaning products saw the most sales growth in year one of the COVID-19 crisis, as Americans locking down at home boosted spending for consumer packaged goods, an analysis by digital marketer Catalina shows.
For the 52 weeks beginning Feb. 15, 2020, the top five CPG categories by dollar sales gains “literally help keep the coronavirus at bay,” Catalina said Thursday. Home health testing kits — including face masks — led the way with 314% year-over-year sales growth, followed by liquid hand soap (+246%), disinfectant cleaners (+235%), personal moist towelettes (+155%) and household cleaner pre-moist wipes (+129%).
Bathroom tissue — a prized purchase in the pandemic’s early days and the subject of countless news reports on panic buying — ended up experiencing dollar sales growth of 33% and 30% for premium and value brands, respectively, over the 12-month period.
“Since face masks account for 80% of the home health testing category, the strong sales performance has increased throughout the year as the Centers for Disease Control and the Biden administration have emphasized how they can markedly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Catalina stated.
Catalina’s analysis, leveraging information from its Buyer Intelligence Database, is based on food and drug retailer dollar sales per store from the week ended Feb. 15, 2020, to the week ended Feb. 13, 2021.
Last March, when incidence of COVID-19 escalated around the country, U.S. consumers made more shopping trips than average, but that began to wane in April as they started sheltering at home, according to Catalina. Then beginning in May, the “lingering impact of lockdowns” resulted in a 9% average decline in weekly, in-person shopping trips, the shopper intelligence firm said.
At the same time, spending per trip increased by 23% on average versus a year earlier, and overall average weekly spending on groceries rose 12%. “While people by and large have been shopping less, they’ve been buying more,” Catalina said.
Consumers also exhibited a bigger appetite for convenience and comfort, as eight of the next 10 top-selling CPG categories are food or beverages. Those product segments include refrigerated snacks/cakes (+87%), frozen drink smoothies (+85%), frozen breaded vegetables (+83%), powdered milk (+82%), camping/sports accessories (+77%), frozen seafood (+71%), light/turkey/chicken bacon (+65%), baking and biscuit mixes (+64%), breakfast drink mixes (+61%) and fire logs (+53%).
“The outliers are the camping/sports accessories category, which reflects consumer excitement to return to the great outdoors as ‘shelter at home’ restrictions were lifted when warmer weather set in, and fire logs, which demonstrate the popularity of gathering around bonfires in summer and fall, while warming up in front of home fireplaces during colder weather,” noted Catalina.
Changing consumer behaviors also had a big impact on various CPG categories as Americans adapted to life under the pandemic’s “new normal.” For example, with most bars and restaurants closed, open for takeout only and/or offering limited dine-in services, adult beverages saw strong sales upticks over the 12 months, Catalina reported. Premixed cocktails/coolers had the largest increase, up 84%, followed by domestic beer/ale (+31%), imported wine (+28%), domestic wine (+25%), spirits (+24%) and imported beer (+23%).
Even bigger sales gains were experienced in the home baking category as U.S. consumers stayed home. Over the past year, Catalina’s data show sales of flour up by 55%, refrigerated dough/sweet rolls up 46%, brownie and cookie mixes up 45%, shelf-stable pie shells up 44%, refrigerated cookie/brownie dough up 36% and yeast up 36%.
A number of categories that had seen declines or were struggling — such as powdered milk and baking mixes in the “pre-pandemic” weeks of 2020 — experienced dramatic resurgences as the year progressed and the coronavirus crisis took hold, including baking extracts (+48%), canned pork and beans (+45%), chlorine bleach (+45%), canned meat stew (+41%) and marshmallows (+40%).
On the downside, sales of beauty and personal care products decreased as many Americans worked at home and students used remote learning, Catalina reported. Segments seeing declines includes wrinkle reducers (-27%), breath fresheners (-26%), face cosmetics (-20%), cosmetics remover (-19%), eye cosmetics (-11%) and hair styling (-9%).
Other categories saw a similar trend as consumers had fewer opportunities to personally interact in business and social settings. These product areas, also experiencing declines prior to the pandemic, included hosiery and tights (-33%), makeup gift sets (-25%), men’s toiletries gift sets (-25%), shoe polish and laces (-20%), weight-loss pills (-15%), alertness aids (-4%) and stationery/school supplies (-3%).
Catalina added that its Buyer Intelligence Database tracks shopping behavior by capturing up to three years of purchase history and more than 2 billion Universal Product Codes.
“We’ve painstakingly categorized shoppers into hundreds of customized audience segments on an anonymized basis in recent years. Knowing the type of products and brands they are likely to put into their carts allows us to tailor highly effective marketing messages and promotions, and deliver them across the most efficient media channels to trigger purchases,” Marta Cyhan, chief marketing officer at Catalina, said in a statement. “Doing so in the midst of a pandemic — when shopper behavior has changed so profoundly— benefits both retailers and brands as well as their customers, who are appreciating value more than ever during these uncertain times.”