Product Pacesetters prove value in promoting excitement and comfort during a trying year

by | Jul 1, 2021 | Public Relations

Despite significant hurdles created by the 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, according to new research from product innovation firm IRI.

More than a quarter of the new “Product Pacesetters” launched in the fourth quarter of 2019 or January 2020 saw big performances, accounting for 51 of 200 Pacesetter products, with 27 in the food and beverage sector, reveals the firm’s 2020 New Product Pacesetters, the 26th annual report revealing the top new product launches across food and beverage and nonfood sectors.

“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, in a news release. “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 make a 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. Similar to previous years’ Pacesetters, less than a quarter of launches came from large companies, yet they accounted for 50 percent 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.

New and innovative products lead the beverage sector

New Product Pacesetters of 2020 reveal that when CPG retailers put the right products in the right place at the right time, new products win, even in unexpected conditions. Many shoppers sought innovative products that offered a sense of novelty and comfort amid the pandemic.

One trend in this year’s Pacesetters is a 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 in IRI’s measured multi-outlet markets.

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 percent last year.

Food and beverage leaders balance 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 good-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 in an effort 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. Rebel Ice Cream came in at No. 5 on the food and beverage New Product Pacesetters list, and was just shy of earning $100 million at $96.7 million, while Talenti Gelato Layers came in at No. 12, and My/Mochi Ice Cream at No. 15.

Product pacesetters: Value in promoting excitement and comfort during a trying year

Nonfood leaders deliver products that enhance the at-home experience

For nonfood Pacesetters, products that offer added value to consumers won big. With an increased demand for detergent due to shoppers spending more time at home, laundry had a big showing on the top 20 list, with four laundry products making the cut. Leader Downy Infusions Scents generated more than $120 million in sales. It captured the interest of consumers who wanted to create a premium, luxurious experience at home, with long-lasting scents and added fabric protection. Other top brands were Gain Blissful Breeze coming in at No. 16, Gain Scent Blast at No. 19 and Tide Heavy Duty 10X taking the No. 22 spot.

While overall sales were down in the beauty department, there was an emergence of new self-care and beauty products sought by consumers who wanted to stay camera-ready for Zoom and FaceTime calls. While there were a similar number of face and skincare launches in 2020 and 2019, Pacesetter sales of these products were stronger in 2020 with 29 beauty Pacesetters representing $378 million and 17% of total nonfood Pacesetters, nearly double the share earned by the group in the previous year. The average launch increased to $13.1 million in 2020 from $10.6 million in 2019.

Household cleaning products also had a strong year throughout the pandemic, with two paper towel products landing a spot in the top 10 nonfood Pacesetters. Brawny Tear-A-Square came in at No. 2, while Viva Multi-Surface Cloth took the No. 7 spot.

According to IRI’s consumer survey data, pet adoption was up significantly during 2020. Among the top 20 nonfood Pacesetters, three pet products earned a spot, including Greenies at No. 3, Swiffer Pet at No. 12 and Tidy Cats Free & Clean at No. 14.

Product pacesetters: Value in promoting excitement and comfort during a trying year

Performance beverages monopolize C-store sales

ZYN reigned supreme in the convenience channel, taking the top spot with $339.2 million in sales. Not to be outdone, beverages took 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.

Product pacesetters: Value in promoting excitement and comfort during a trying year

Capturing consumer interest post-pandemic

“Understanding consumer demographics and why certain products succeed is imperative for brands, both big and small, as innovation strategists work to respond to the continuously shifting marketplace,” said Larry Levin, executive vice president, market and shopper intelligence and thought leadership at IRI, in the release. “IRI’s 2020 New Product Pacesetters and its consumer attitudes survey about new products tell a story of people staying at home, but still seeking out products and brands that offered indulgence and comfort amid the chaos of COVID-19.”

Download the full report here.

The IRI 2020 New Product Pacesetters report is available exclusively from IRI, the global leader in innovative solutions and services for consumer, retail and media companies. The findings of this report were compiled based on insights from IRI’s New Product Innovation Practice’s powerful suite of analytical and decision-making tools, as well as the 2021 IRI New Product Survey.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


11 ways outdoor brands can leverage PR for success

11 ways outdoor brands can leverage PR for success

The call of the wild resonates with many, and outdoor brands hold the coveted key to the door of adventure. Amidst a bustling marketplace brimming with tents, kayaks, and hiking boots, the challenge lies in ensuring one's brand stands out, resonating with the current...