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The ‘homebody economy’ and changing consumer habits



The fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry experienced significant and prolonged lifts in sales across most categories as COVID-19 spread and drove people into weeks of lockdown. Their lives quickly became centered on the home (whether they liked it or not), and the so-called “homebody economy” was born. In Canada, year-to-date we have seen an explosion in sales with FMCG dollars seeing growth of 12.6%. To put it in perspective, that is 2.7 times higher than total FMCG growth in 2019 in Canada. Sales across many categories that fed this trend remain stronger than in pre-COVID conditions; after all, we’re eating more meals at home, and spending more time in our homes, resulting in everything from paper towels to garbage bags and cleaning products being in high demand.

While value and volume growth was inevitable for many FMCG categories during lockdown conditions, that growth may not be sustainable as economic challenges overtake health concerns. The global economy and the behaviours of consumers within it face escalating levels of change.

Unemployment will be a significant driver of this change. For some consumers, furloughs will turn into unemployment; for others, reliable employment may remain out of reach for years. Canada started the year with record low unemployment at 5.2%; however, by May it had more than doubled, spiking at 13.7%. June saw minor recovery to 12.4% with phased re-opening approaches across Canada. Even more telling across Canada is that 24% of households have had at least one person who has been impacted by job loss and/or furlough, and another 11% of Canadians are expecting impacts in the future.

Projections like these clearly highlight that consumers will need to recalibrate their spending habits. In other words, we may still be eating more meals in our homes, but what we eat and how much we’re able to afford will change, and that change may possibly last years. And it won’t just be food that changes. Consumers will completely reassess what goes in their shopping baskets.

And that means brands and retailers will need to serve consumers differently, and these are consumers with low confidence levels for economic recovery. Consider the likely shift to demand for more value-for-money products. For Canadians, buying on sale and in bulk are key saving strategies, with 79% using this saving strategy and 54% of shoppers buying larger sizes. However, these strategies will not work for everyone. Large multi-packs may offer the best value, but they may be out of reach for people short on cash. Cash-strapped consumers may be forced to buy smaller pack sizes, and brand loyalty across categories may fade.

Consequently, FMCG manufacturers are reassessing their portfolios to adjust. Similarly, retailers are looking at how to stay relevant to consumers who will have rapidly changing consideration sets. In the past, retailers could have performed these kinds of assessments with relatively ample time for testing. That is no longer the case. Changing retail channels are a case in point. Online adoption has taken just weeks to get to a tipping point that would have otherwise taken years. In Canada, online shopping was the fastest-growing FMCG retail channel, increasing 44% in the first quarter. Put in perspective, this is growing 3.5 times the rate of the total market.

Whatever the channel, it’s clear that getting assortment and pricing right will be key. So, too, will be packaging and brand claims. Consumers are looking for clear claims that highlight the benefit of the product. Not surprisingly, there is strong demand at all price points for products offering various health benefits such as immunity-boosting capabilities or germ-killing powers.

Wherever brands sit along the price spectrum, it will be critical that they shift as consumers reconcile their wallets with their shopping baskets. Keeping pace with those reconciliations will, of course, also be essential.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 

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The challenge of gender bias

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 11.40.08 AMFor every ad featuring strong women and girls, there’s the inexplicable product marketed specifically to women—even though it doesn’t have to be. From household cleaners to snacks, some brands are creating unnecessarily gendered versions of products and often charging women more for it. The spotlight on this practice, which is referred to as the “pink tax,” is growing hotter. And it’s leaving the door wide open for new brands to make waves by openly calling attention to pink-taxed items, challenging sexist stereotypes, empowering underprivileged women and creating products that put the comfort and desires of women—rather than society’s expectations—first.

For brands to succeed today, they need to find ways to address the challenges women face. Comprising half of our population, women are key influencers in Canada. The reality is that women still shoulder most of the household responsibilities. On average, 72% of women in North America say they have shared or primary responsibility for daily shopping, household chores and food prep. As a result, they’re also the primary purchaser for everyday household items. But taking on this second, sometimes third job means women have additional demands each week and less time to meet them. This makes women one of the largest opportunities for convenience-led technologies and services.

But convenience is not the only chance for brands to make a significant difference in the lives of women. More than half (61%) of women in North America believe that they are worse off or about the same financially, compared with where they were five years ago. While “about the same” might appear positive, a flat income does not help offset rising costs of things such as food, childcare and other costs of living.

When shopping online, women are more likely to want risk-free guarantees and convenience. For example, free delivery for online shopping from Tuesday through Thursday particularly appeals to women in North America. Women are also more likely to be interested in receiving notifications when an item ordered is out-of-stock, as well as when products come with money-back guarantees.

Despite financial, work and time pressures, women are laser-focused on living healthier, better lives. They aren’t willing to compromise on their health. How do women interpret what’s healthy? They are more likely to scrutinize the items on the shelf than men, looking for transparent labels and for companies that are open about where their products come from and how they are produced. The gender gap is especially large in North America, where 67% of women are reading labels to determine if a product is healthy, compared to 48% of men.

So what does this all mean for manufacturers and retailers? It means shifting gender norms are swiftly moving from minority to mainstream, especially in markets dominated by working-age millennial consumers.

That said, gender bias remains commonplace in modern-day advertising, and both men and women are noticing. Stereotypes that might have been acceptable just a few years ago now elicit a cringe. While cultural norms vary, it is critical that brands communicate the important role men play in women’s empowerment and equality journey— from encouraging and defending inclusivity in the workplace to sharing the load at home.

Patronage is increasingly contingent on a true understanding of a woman’s needs and reflecting her reality on screen, on the shelf and in the store. And brands that are getting it right—be it through social responsibility, sustainability, health or convenience—will continue to win wallets. Those that don’t change fast enough won’t.

In short, brands and retailers that focus more on how they can lessen the load off women’s shoulders and less on the colour of their packaging will earn more of this consumer’s dollars.

Carman Allison is vice-president of consumer insights at Nielsen in Toronto. This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’November issue.


Nielsen highlights future trends in product innovation

nielsen-profiles_0As we enter a new decade, brands, suppliers and retail industry experts are looking ahead to the innovation that will occur over the next 10 years.

“With constant evolution of channel, competitive and consumer environments, marketers are being forced to think differently in order to compete,” said Jenny Frazier, senior vice president of Nielsen BASES, the product innovation discipline within Nielsen. “Over the next decade, expect to see remarkable shifts in innovation strategies to accommodate a new age of conscious, connected and unconventional consumption.”

The next decade of product innovation will bring these trends, according to Nielsen:

Conventional product innovation is no longer about being first to market — Innovation now extends to identifying a brand’s larger purpose, for connecting with more discerning and fickle consumers. There is no single path to innovation success, and successful innovation can come in many forms: some could be disruptive game changers, some could be launched to fend off competitive pressure and some might be launched with the idea of tapping into an emerging consumer trend.

Brands will innovate in a heightened world of product disloyalty — Today’s consumers are alternatively bombarded and empowered by choice. They are also more disloyal than ever before, with one third of U.S. consumers claiming to be less loyal to products today than they were five years ago, and nearly half indicating they are actively looking for new products. This serves as a challenge for legacy brands and products, but it can be resolved by bold innovation.

Product packaging as we know it will be reimagined by 2030 — This could include refillable, dissolvable, plantable, food waste-based or other kinds of packaging. As consumers continue to prioritize sustainability, companies will remake the materials used to create their packaging, but also leverage packaging as a vehicle to reinforce authenticity. For some, product packaging will stand as a brand’s badge of commitment toward a more sustainable way of living.

Convenience with a conscience will emerge — The rise of the on-the-go lifestyle has prompted a surge in innovation within prepackaged, single-serve food offerings. More innovation is likely to occur in this sector, particularly within the fresh, refrigerated spaces, such as locally sourced hard boiled eggs for snacking. Additionally, this trend is rising parallel to the backlash against single-use plastic and a movement toward increased sustainability. Innovation will need to push convenience driven items like single serve offerings, from product formulations to packaging, to be more sustainable.

Generational preferences are breaking from tradition, marking an opportunity for innovators to rethink product norms — Interesting shifts are occurring at the opposite ends of the generational spectrum. Baby Boomers are changing the script by keeping youthful interests, staying active and taking on aging like no other generation has done before, while Generation Alpha is being raised with more mature, sophisticated tastes — at least according to foods, Nielsen found. Over the next decade products geared toward older generations will be more youthful and products aimed at the youngest generation will seem more mature.

Innovating for social commerce will rise — The era of creating photogenic products for Instagram and other social sites will continue, but the rise of social commerce will push the envelope for product innovators even further. Companies will have an increased opportunity to create limited edition, exclusive offerings specific for social commerce over the next decade. This will create new ways to engage with customers, enabling even more personalized products for targeted consumers and social communities.

Global textures and flavors will continue to inspire — Multicultural influences will guide the next decade of innovation as consumers continue to look for culinary experiences. Innovation in textures is prime for expansion, as seen with the mainstream popularity of food textures like mochi ice cream and boba drinks. Additionally, new global flavor innovations will continue to emerge, reaching new depths of spicy, savory and sour. Innovators will tap into more global tastes and trends for inspiration over the next decade, meeting the growing consumer need for experiential foods.

An increase in inclusive innovations will emerge — Product innovators will rise to the challenge to create products that are more inclusive, catering to consumers and communities across gender lines, abilities and ages. Additionally, brands will return to a more binary state, with less concentration on marketing unnecessary, genderized, household products and an increased focus on efficacy and authenticity.

Memorable mash-ups — Brand mash-ups will continue to draw attention, with some playing into the enduring appeal of nostalgia.

Products will test the boundaries of staple substitutions — Innovation in plant-based proteins has upended the protein space. As consumers continue to show interest in sustainable substitutes, companies will respond by continuing to innovate in this space, expanding to new categories across the store.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

H2O to go: Water sales increasing across convenience channels


UnknownAs far as choice goes, there’s never been a better time to be a consumer. Thanks to globalization and connectivity, consumers around the world have access to a wider array of products than ever – a trend that’s likely to continue going forward. And the bevy of choice involves products and services from both multinational and local brands. But even in an era of massive choice, consumers have spoken: water is a top choice and sales continue to see strong growth in Canada across convenience stores.

In step with consumers around the globe, Canadians are actively working to improve their health and make better decisions for their overall wellbeing. Leading a healthy lifestyle is now top of mind for many consumers, but the approaches they take are as individual as the people themselves. One thing that seems to ring true though is consumers are quenching their thirst with water. With more than two-thirds of Canadian consumers (71%) feeling overweight and 54% actively trying to lose weight, finding the right combination of food and beverages is key to a well-balanced diet. While individual plans and strategies differ from consumer to consumer, almost three-quarters (74%) of Canadians are including a very simple choice in their quest: actively trying to drink more water.

As consumers put their money where their health is, water sales across convenience outlets are growing across water categories that include flat water, carbonated water and coconut water. In the most recent year, flat water accounted for nearly $124 million in annual sales across the convenience channel in Canada, up 2% from the previous year. But while flat water may lead the way in total sales, other options are gaining momentum. Sales of carbonated water, for instance, increased 36% in the current year, reaching nearly $16 million. And while newer to the market, coconut water is adding another $3.4 million in sales across convenience channels in Canada.


 As Canadians work to keep hydrated, flat water sales are climbing and plain and simple ‘regular water’ led the way with 5% increase in both dollar sales and unit sales, proving once more that when it comes to nutrition consumers are going back to basics and keeping it simple. As simple as the purchase of water may seem, consumers still have to choose among a plethora of water sizes. But it seems consumers are taking on the “go-big or go-home” mentality. Sales of flat water in 500ml – 1L sizes command control with sales exceeding $82 million and dollar growth of 3%.



Renewed interest in carbonated waters is yet another reflection of consumers’ ongoing shift toward opting to make healthier choices, and a testimony to the power of innovation. The carbonated water category taps into several health and wellness trends popular with Canadians today, such as the appeal of a low-carbohydrate and low-calorie option that can potentially be seen as a low-guilt beverage and an offering that is also gluten-free. Beyond the potential health benefits consumers see, these drinks can be refreshing, provide new and exciting flavours and, within the beverage alcohol market, the versatility to shake a cocktail mix draws attention. For carbonated water, innovation is fuelling the growth with more flavours and formats available to Canadians.

While it’s good to know that Canadians endeavour to achieve a healthy overall lifestyle, it’s helpful for retailers and manufacturers across the country to understand why. What’s at the top of their list? As consumers age, preventing future health issues (68%) comes first, followed closely by 63% of consumers who want to look and feel good. As Canadians take charge of their health, increasing their water intake is a way to keep up with their health goals and is also a guilt-free way to stay hydrated and energize the body. Staples like water give manufacturers and retailers an opportunity to partner with consumers in their quests for healthier lives.


Isabel Morales is the manager, consumer insights for Nielsen Canada.




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