Despite significant hurdles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many new products managed to beat the odds and emerge as winners, making their way into shoppers’ carts during unprecedented times and resulting in multiple $100 million launches. More than 25% of the New Product Pacesetters launched in fourth-quarter 2019 or January 2020 saw big performances, accounting for 51 of 200 Pacesetter products, with 27 in the food and beverage sector.
“The top New Product Pacesetters of 2020 accomplished a unique feat by achieving success in circumstances never before seen in the history of Pacesetters,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of Content and Thought Leadership for IRI. “Many shoppers made the leap to new products because their go-to brand was unavailable, but many also actively sought out innovation for new experiences, measured not just by dollars earned, but also by the ability to reach the intended audience.”
Big brands, big impact
IRI estimates the pandemic created upward of 33 million new in-home meal occasions, leading to increased pantry-stocking and CPG spending for products from manufacturers of all sizes. Less than 25% of launches came from large companies, yet they accounted for 50% of Pacesetter dollars in 2020. Median launch sales got a bump from COVID-19, reaching $21.5 million compared to $19 million for 2019, outpacing overall CPG industry growth rates for 2020 and reinforcing the value consumers place on innovation.
Innovative products lead the beverage sector
Many shoppers sought innovative products that offered a sense of novelty and comfort amid the pandemic. There was notable consumer interest in carbonated beverages, including sparkling waters and hard seltzers. Of the top 25 food and beverage Pacesetters of 2020, 10 are beverages. Bud Light Seltzer, which launched in January 2020, took the No. 1 spot, followed by Truly Lemonade and Mtn Dew Zero Sugar. All of the top three food and beverage Pacesetters generated more than $100 million in sales.
Beverage alcohol products accounted for eight of the 27 beverage Pacesetters and generated a massive $547 million compared to last year's six that brought in $198 million. In 2020, beer, wine and spirits reigned supreme as consumer celebrations and entertaining moved in-home. New product launches in this space made a huge splash, generating a combined 44% of Pacesetter beverage dollars compared with 17% last year.
Balancing indulgence with self-care, health and wellness
Another central theme of 2020 was balancing indulgence with self-care, a trend IRI expects to continue in CPG and retail. New Product Pacesetters show that health and indulgence can co-exist, and innovators continue to find ways to combine these two consumer values.
The popularity of better-for-you products has been on the rise since before the pandemic, and this trend has held strong in terms of new product launches. Some categories have increased in sales as people opt for products that boost their health to ward off illness.
Like beverages, ice cream and frozen novelties also offered the comfort and enjoyment that people looked for to elevate their at-home experience. Leading brands Rebel Ice Cream and Talenti Gelato Layers boast pure, clean ingredient lists, but still come in decadent flavors that offer a sense of indulgence.
The top 10 food and beverage brands making the 2020 New Product Pacesetters list include:
- Bud Light Seltzer ($193.7 million)
- Truly Lemonade ($191.3 million)
- Mtn Dew Zero Sugar ($111.2 million)
- Starbucks Creamers ($105 million)
- Rebel Ice Cream ($96.7 million)
- Reign ($94.4 million)
- Cheetos Popcorn ($79.7 million)
- Kinder Bueno ($61.7 million)
- REESE’S THiNS ($56 million)
- Beyond Sausage ($52.6 million)
Performance beverages dominate C-store sales
While smokeless tobacco brand ZYN reigned supreme in the convenience channel, taking the top spot with $339.2 million in sales, beverages –notably performance drinks—ruled C-store sales, taking nine of the top 10 spots. While half of the top 10 broke the $100 million threshold, overall sales were down compared to 2019, which saw eight of its top 10 break the same barrier. Similar to previous years, consumers turned to convenience for an energy boost, with six of the top 10 products being energy drinks.
The top 10 C-store brands making the 2020 New Product Pacesetters list include:
- ZYN ($339.2 million)
- Reign ($301.8 million)
- Bud Light Seltzer ($166.7 million)
- Red Bull Peach Edition ($151.1 million)
- Monster Energy Ultra Paradise ($125.5 million)
- Starbucks Tripleshot Energy ($78.6 million)
- Mtn Dew Zero Sugar ($67.9 million)
- Starbucks Frappuccino with a splash of Cold Brew ($66.9 million)
- Red Bull Pear Edition ($55.8 million)
- Coca-Cola Energy ($54 million)
IRI also named 10 Rising Star food and beverage brands based on innovation, noting both alcohol and non-alcohol appear poised for another year of standout performance.
- 19 Crimes Cali Red wine
- AHA bottled water
- Blue Moon LightSky beer
- Chobani Oat milk
- Cornona Hard Seltzer
- DIGORNIO Croissant Crust frozen pizza
- Dr Pepper & Cream Soda
- LIFE CUISINE frozen entrees
- Minute Maid Zero Sugar juice
- Vizzy hard seltzer