Natural Product Sales up Significantly Compared to Last Year, Both Pre-COVID-19 and During the Pandemic

New research from IRI and SPINS reveals that consumers are purchasing more natural products in 2020, both pre-COVID-19 and during the current pandemic.

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New research from IRI and SPINS  reveals that consumers are purchasing more natural products in 2020, both pre-COVID-19 and during the current pandemic. The new report, COVID-19 and Navigating the Path Ahead: Supporting the Natural Products Consumer, highlights natural shoppers’ product and shopping preferences, recommended strategies for manufacturers and retailers to attract and retain consumers, and suggested strategies to employ that will maximize new opportunities in the future.

“Dollar sales for natural products continue to grow over one year ago, as much as an astounding 78% in the middle of March during consumers’ initial stock-up period and continuing in the high teens at present,” said Steve Ramsey, executive vice president and general manager, Strategic Accounts, IRI. “Given that natural products represent more than 8% of total store sales year-to-date and are outpacing sales of conventional products, there are significant opportunities for manufacturers and retailers alike to show support for consumers.”

“We continue to see an ongoing shift in shopper thinking when selecting from natural and conventional products,” said Kathryn Peters, executive vice president at SPINS and 25-year veteran of the grocery industry. “As the pandemic dominates the news and the focus remains on health and well-being, natural products will continue to outperform other products as consumers continue to invest in better-for-you items to eat, use on their bodies and to maintain their homes.”  

Natural Product Shoppers Widening Their Preferences

Natural product shoppers are not abandoning their focus during COVID-19; in fact, they are doubling down, widening their preferences through strategies such as seeking and avoiding various ingredients and carefully studying label claims and certifications. 

One important change they are making is channel shifting with a particular focus on e-commerce (pure play e-commerce and click and collect), particularly in the post-stock-up period. Trips per buyer for natural products versus one year ago grew a dramatic 27% for e-commerce while exhibiting slow or negative growth among other channels. Similarly, e-commerce dollar purchases per buyer of natural products rose 15% compared to one year ago, at roughly the same pace as for the grocery channel. Other channels grew at a significantly slower rate.

Brands and Manufacturers Have New Opportunities

Health concerns surrounding COVID-19 have driven a wider range of shoppers to the natural marketplace, creating an important opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to create loyalty with new shoppers as well as reinforce their commitment to existing ones. 

Two segments of IRI’s NaturaLink™ segmentation represent the leading edge of natural trends. “True Believers” and “Enlightened Environmentalists” represent 22% of shoppers but 44% of natural product sales. These consumers shine a light on opportunities for brands and retailers. More consumers across all NaturaLink segments bought natural products at a higher rate during the March stock-up period, representing an opportunity to attract and convert new shoppers increasingly focused on their health. Refrigerated plant-based meats is one example; overall buyer count increased 62% during the stock-up period and dollar sales increased 51% in that time frame across a range of shopper segments. 

Charting the Path Forward

Economic pressures on consumers and product availability are impacting shoppers’ category buying strategies but to date have not dampened their interest in natural products. Brands and retailers can gain valuable insights from both past weeks’ behavioral data and shopping patterns during the last recession. 

Shoppers will continue to face canceled promotions, disrupted supplies and heightened costs due to plant closures resulting from COVID-19. IRI and SPINS predict shoppers will adopt strategies, including looking for sale items, larger package sizes, private-label options and potentially different product attributes that fit tightened budgets. In particular, private brands are exhibiting outsize growth rates, similar to their performance during the last recession. For example, sales of private-label vitamins and minerals jumped 1,286% compared to a year ago, as compared to 41% total category growth. Among non-foods, sales of private-label household cleaners and supplies grew 120% versus total category growth of 37%.  

Three core strategies IRI and SPINS recommend to create a road map for success are:

  • Reinforce commitment to current shoppers by better understanding their engagement with natural foods, and design strategies to maintain their loyalty and increase share of basket.
  • Identify potential new buyers, gain a deep understanding of their behaviors, build conversion strategies and actively engage them through targeted marketing.
  • Continuously refine a fluid channel strategy to reflect changing circumstances that target both brick-and-mortar stores and the growing importance of e-commerce.