CHICAGO — Can made-to-order foodservice come back? Will gains in the tobacco and nicotine segments hold up? These and more are among the trends manufacturers are battling as the United States moves past the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how CSP’s editors expect that to be reflected on the NACS Show floor, Oct. 6-8 in Chicago.
Candy & Snacks
The candy and snack product categories saw consumers seek out comfortable and familiar brands, as well as healthier options, through the pandemic. It’s on retailers now to conclude whether those were short-term trends or here to stay. Other attributes that will drive sales and innovation include more spicy and sour flavors, a desire for variety, and diverse package sizes for both immediate and take-home consumption.
Keep an eye on those segments that performed well during the past year—chocolate, gummies and meat snacks among them—as manufacturers look to maintain those sales. Meanwhile, expect innovation and promotional campaigns from those segments that struggled—salty snacks, snack bars, and gum and mints—as they attempt to make a comeback in the post-pandemic marketplace.
There are so many trends to watch in foodservice, it’s worth breaking them out in a convenient list:
- Plant-based foods are on the rise: The number of retailers with plant-based options on their menus has grown 29% in the past five years, Technomic says.
- Last-mile service: Accustomed to getting items delivered during the pandemic, customers are expected to continue this trend.
- More breakfast, and increasingly at non-breakfast hours: Breakfast was thrown off course during the pandemic as morning routines were disrupted with people working from home. Consumers have been eating more breakfast foods than normal at more times during the day, a recent survey revealed.
- More packaged bakery: Following an intense focus on germs and transmissible disease, more people say they’re more comfortable with sealed products.
- Bean-to-cup coffee:GPM Investments is the latest retailer to roll out a bean-to-cup coffee program, joining Circle K, Royal Farms, Good Oil, 7-Eleven and more.
- Chicken sandwiches: Following on success in quick-service chains, more c-store retailers have rolled out chicken-themed products, among them: Pilot Flying J, QuickChek, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, 7-Eleven and Kwik Chek.
- More Mexican food: Sales of Mexican foods in c-stores rose 47.7% in 2020 to more than $17 million, according to Technomic, CSP’s Chicago-based sister data firm.
The past year has seen seismic shifts in the technology and fuel landscapes for convenience stores and gas stations. Most notable is the shift in attitude toward electric vehicles (EVs). Between the Biden administration’s vocal support for EVs and General Motors’ goal to become carbon neutral by 2040, an alternative to gasoline as the public’s fuel of choice appears closer than ever. Expect to see EV chargers and other EV-related items featured prominently during this year’s NACS Show.
Alcohol had a strong year in 2020 and into 2021. Although there are many new entrants to the field, hard seltzers continue to show strength. New flavors and varieties, such as lemonades and teas, are sure to be on display at the NACS Show 2021. Low- or no-alcohol beers and CBD- or hemp-based beverages will also likely be on display as consumers trend toward healthier options.
Energy drinks are another hot segment in packaged beverages. Six out of 10 of IRI’s Top 10 C-Store Pacesetters for 2020 were energy drinks, including Reign Total Body Fuel, Red Bull Peach Edition and Starbucks Tripleshot Energy.
One notable trend in 2020 that is continuing into 2021 is a consumer interest in carbonated beverages from hard seltzers to energy to sparkling water, according to data from Chicago-based IRI.
Is consumers’ reliance on mobile ordering and last-mile services a pandemic-induced temporary solution or is it here to stay? Either way, more c-stores are investing in curbside pickup, drive-thrus and delivery than ever. Software, apps and programs to support last-mile services will be easy to find at the show.
Other big-tech trends at the show will range from more personalized loyalty programs to improved contactless checkout setups.
When it comes to tobacco, retailers can expect to see emerging categories such as modern oral nicotine (MON) products at the NACS Show this year. White-pouch brands like Zyn and Velo, for example, have seen triple and even quadruple year-over-year growth in recent months and are becoming more popular as flavored tobacco options are limited.
Don’t expect to see much innovation when it comes to flavored e-cigarettes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still determining whether it will allow flavored tobacco products through the ongoing premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process.