Dawn Valandingham is a contributor to Supermarket News and senior vice president of retail at SPINS, a leader in data and retailer solutions for the natural products industry. She leads the SPINS Retail strategy, which includes innovative tactics around recruitment and retention of retail partners. Valandingham is also responsible for adding strategic partners that strengthen the SPINS ecosystem and reinforce its commitment to expanding and supporting the natural products industry.
We’re not in a post-pandemic world yet, but we’re also well beyond the confusing place we were in 2020. The question retailers should be asking isn’t “What does the future look like?” but rather “What’s happening right now that will still matter in 2022?” Because I’m lucky enough to not only have frequent conversations with retailers but also access to SPINS data, I’m watching the natural market evolve in real time.
In 2021, the inescapable truth is that shoppers are already telling us what matters to them, and that’s especially evident when you look at the products that they’re gravitating toward. They’re doubling down on their commitment to health and wellness, but they’re doing so on their own terms. We know natural products have performed well throughout the pandemic, and now we can see what product attributes — ingredients, label claims, allergen information and nutrition panel information — are driving shoppers’ new approach to a better lifestyle.
Functional Ingredients Appear Across New Categories
Functional ingredients, which are ingredients that improve health and well-being, can be found as standalone vitamins and supplements or within a variety of foods and beverages. Shoppers once only sought out these items as pills or powders, but now manufacturers are finding innovative ways to offer them throughout the store. Head to any aisle and you can find packaging that boasts the inclusion of echinacea, Vitamin D, collagen and electrolytes on anything from kombucha to yogurt.
One specific subcategory you’ll want to keep your eye on is nootropics. Nootropic ingredients, including GABA, L-Theanine and Acetyl L Carnitine, enhance mental performance and focus. Although they are mostly found as supplements, nootropics are appearing in a variety of popular functional food and beverages (including salmon, eggs, soybeans and more). Based on data from the SPINS Natural Enhanced Channel, Regional & Independent Grocery and Conventional Multioutlet Channel (powered by IRI) for 24 weeks ending June 13, 2021:
- Bacopa (thought to improve attention) grew 147.6%;
- Phosphatidyl serine (often used for nutrition performance as well as for better memory) grew 108.9%; and
- DMAE (thought to enhance memory or even improve mood) grew 103.8%
Performance Nutrition Broadens Its Reach
You might think of performance nutrition as the domain of athletes — and it certainly began with them — but shoppers of all stripes have learned its value. Performance nutrition products seek to improve or address specific needs for physical activity, whether that’s training for an ultramarathon, power lifting or simply hopping on your spin bike at home.
However, shoppers understand that nutrition isn’t simply important when you’re mid-workout; pre- and post-activity wellness matters, too. More shoppers are reaching for items that help with hydration and electrolytes, weight management and overall wellness. Consider that over a 12-week stretch, SPINS found that vitamins, minerals and supplements grew 2% in natural outlets and 32% in conventional retailers versus a year ago. Even more impressive was the growth Vitamin D saw: a 57% increase in natural outlets and 43% in conventional. These figures show how intertwined performance nutrition and functional ingredients are for consumers.
Low- And No-Alcohol Options Offer Unique Appeal
Shoppers enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a barbecue or a nice cocktail at a party — that’s not going away. However, plenty of shoppers are finding ways to make happy hour a little healthier when possible. Alcoholic drinks (wine, ready-to-go cocktails and other drinks) had a strong year in grocery stores during lockdown, and natural options experienced a boost. However, plenty of shoppers are checking packaging for two numbers: calorie count and ABV.
As people continue to focus on overall health thanks to the ongoing pandemic, hope to shed a few COVID pounds or just want to make a lifestyle change, 0% ABV drinks are become bar staples for anyone who wants to enjoy something other than water at a social gathering. Similarly, calorie-conscious customers might not give up alcohol entirely, but they don’t want to leave behind their fitness goals either. That’s why ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages are perfect choices: Their calorie counts are often clearly displayed on the packaging and they cover everything from wine to beer to cocktails. Plus, it’s easier to keep track of how much wine you’re drinking when you’re holding a can instead of a wine glass that can easily be refilled. The 0% ABV space is gaining enough traction that we’re starting to see exclusively non-alcoholic brands launching products; the earliest players in the space were alcohol manufacturers who added a non-alcoholic option to their product lineup. Today, it’s a growing mix of brands trying to grab the customer’s attention.
The common thread through all of these rising trends is that shoppers are making choices that fit within their lifestyle. The labels of “good” and “bad” foods have given way to “good-for-me” items. During assortment reviews or when assessing a categories performance, retailers need to address the needs of today’s shopper seeking wellness offerings.