How 2021 Could Play Out, Given Anticipated CPG Sales Declines


Dollar sales of oat milk grew  203% last year.

For consumers, 2020 meant less mobility, more time at home and—especially early on during the pandemic—not being picky about the price of CPG products, but just grabbing what was available on store shelves.

For brands, 2020 was about cutting promotions and/or media spending, while rationalizing SKUs and pack sizes—depending on whatever they could quickly produce and distribute.

This generated lots of new trial users for companies that could maintain on-shelf presence.

“A variety of consumer trends emerged or accelerated during 2020, particularly do-it-yourself,” Scott McKenzie, global intelligence leader at NielsenIQ, tells Marketing Daily.

Categories that had performed well prior to COVID-19 found sales grew even more during the pandemic, including plant-based meat substitutes, seafood and dairy—with dollar sales of oat milk growing by 203% in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 26 of 2020, per Nielsen.

In a survey of 2,004 U.S. adults by data provider NCSolutions, in late November of 2020, 47% of respondents indicated they had tried new brands and categories since the pandemic began.

The new brands people were most open to trying were in snack foods (52%), beverages (44%) and cleaning products (43%).

According to research provider IRI, the biggest 2020 brand winners—in terms of new buyers of CPG edibles and household penetration—included Bimbo, Bertolli, Barilla, Goya, Hunt’s, Kikkoman, Kinder, Land O’Lakes, Libby’s, Old El Paso, Prego, Truly Hard Seltzer and Sweet Baby Ray’s.

But IRI says “most CPG sales will fall” in 2021, with 65% of edible and non-edible CPG categories expected to decline from their 2020 performance.

Assisted by COVID-19 vaccines, people will consume more food and beverages away from home. Given continued economic uncertainty, they’ll also be more budget-conscious and thus looking for value in general and private-label products in particular.

“Today, private-label offerings aren’t just knock-offs of popular versions of national brands,” says Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership for IRI. “We see retailers investing in packaging and sustainability claims, greater levels of on-trend convenience, plant-based products, indulgent products in terms of treats and personal care and premium items—especially around meal components.”

Meanwhile, CPG brands are expected to refocus on product innovation and their overall retail execution—including ramping up in-store promotions pushed aside by the pandemic, according to IRI and others.

Procter & Gamble remained the biggest CPG advertiser in digital venues in 2020, per data from marketing platform Pathmatics. P&G’s top channel was Instagram.

As one of the most prominent companies to jump on the “Facebook Boycott bandwagon in the summer of 2020, P&G met the moment, pulling most ads for the remainder of the year,” Pathmatics noted in a recent report.

“That said, much of this budget shifted to Facebook-owned Instagram, which accounted for 40% of P&G’s overall digital spend over the last year.”

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