business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Sally Lyons Wyatt, The Symphony IRI Group

Did you know that more than 80% of consumers are making purchasing decisions at home by planning their consumer packaged goods purchases (CPG) before ever stepping foot into a retail store? This is a huge shift from just a few years ago, and consumers are telling us this change is here to stay. Additionally, 64% of consumers are now working from pre-made shopping lists, and 44% of consumers are using coupons to make those lists.

A key theme that has emerged amongst all the chaos of changing shopper behaviors is that consumers are focusing more than ever on their interpretation of “value.” This is a challenging and often fleeting concept to understand as it is not only about price, but a conglomeration of attitudes toward a brand, the channel, sustainability, wellness and indulgence. Consumers not only want the most affordable product, but products that fit their lifestyles, including helping them stay healthy without causing an unneeded burden on the environment. As 80% of consumers actively look for “value” when shopping for snacks, this delivers huge impact on the entire shopping cycle, from the planning phase to consumption.

Here’s what it means for the “snack” category: consumer recognition of your brand is even more important to make sure your product makes it onto consumers’ shopping lists, a critical factor in today’s CPG arena.

Snacking Snapshot: Trends and Values

The eat-at-home trend extends into the snacking category and any product that caters to this new lifestyle will do well at retail. Consumers are looking for snacks that support from-home eating rituals. Portable snacks, those easy to eat on the go or throw in the lunch box, are seeing some strength this year.

Healthy snack segments are also experiencing pockets of growth as more consumers are eating for nutrition, and two-thirds of consumers are eating to manage a special condition, including weight loss. Snacks touting wellness benefits, such as antioxidants and added fiber, are being very well received, as again, those products address concerns on which consumers place a high amount of value.

Interestingly enough, 2009 brought a significant and definite shift in channel behavior. Above all other retail locations, the grocery channel outperformed the competition for the year. This actually marks the first time in several years that the grocery channel was a top performer, speaking volumes to the fact that grocers are successfully solidifying their price and value positioning in the CPG arena.

The grocery channel did especially well in private label, and overall private label gains cut across CPG channels, but convenience stores clearly enjoyed the largest jump in share. Much of this growth is due to an increasing availability of private label options. Portfolios are being increased in depth and breadth as retailers race to capitalize on consumers’ appetite for store brands.

Drug retailers have also gained traction with private label, and, once again, innovation has been a key to growth. A good example of private label innovation is Duane Reade. Heavily focused on differentiating its private label lines, it operates under the philosophy that store brands need not mimic nationally branded products, but rather that they can stand on their own and complement other banners in the store.

Like private label, products that are natural and organic are continuing to gain consumer attention, despite recessionary times. Today, 16% of consumers are looking to increase consumption of natural and organic products, and nearly one-quarter seek natural and organic snack options.

Experiential eating continues to be a key trend in snacking today with consumers reporting that they are looking for new and exciting flavors and flavor combinations in snacks to mix it up a bit!

Building on the desire for natural and organic products, consumers are heavily supporting sustainability efforts from CPG snack brands. One-third of consumers are looking for reduced and/or eco-friendly packaging today (Sun Chips recently introduced “the world’s first 100% compostable bag), and 21% of consumers look to spend money with companies that follow sustainable business practices.

Moving forward, snacking innovation will likely follow the trends outlined above. Based on this overview of consumer behavior in the snack category, retailers and manufacturers can prioritize their offerings by taking into consideration values such as private label, couponing and sustainability, when creating products and promotions. A value-based, consumer-centric approach that helps consumers help themselves will increase a brand’s chance of making it onto the shopping list.
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