What’s on shoppers’ lists? Bacon, cleaning products and frozen foods

Adella Miesner

Dive Brief: Six months into the pandemic, cleaning supplies, indulgent foods and home cooking staples are still among the fastest growing products at grocery stores, according to newly released data. Research and media firm Catalina says the home testing kit category, which includes face masks, was the fastest-growing sales category […]

Dive Brief:

  • Six months into the pandemic, cleaning supplies, indulgent foods and home cooking staples are still among the fastest growing products at grocery stores, according to newly released data.
  • Research and media firm Catalina says the home testing kit category, which includes face masks, was the fastest-growing sales category year-over-year in August. Cleaning products comprised three of the top six categories, while bacon and yeast rounded out the list.
  • Frozen food has been a hot seller throughout the pandemic. According to an analysis by 210 Analytics using IRI data, frozen food sales increased 17.4% year-over-year during the last week of August — marking the 25th consecutive week of double-digit gains in dollar sales for the category. Frozen meals had the highest sales share, followed by frozen meat, poultry and seafood. 

Dive Insight:

As the pandemic wears on, shoppers are still gravitating toward center store food items as well as hygiene products that can help stave off the virus. While the sales growth in cleaning products and face masks will likely subside eventually, retailers are hoping to promote long-term habits in product categories like frozen food and recipe staples.

Striking the right balance between comfort and health seems to be key. The latest data shows consumers are opting for indulgence, with sales of frozen pizza up 18.6% during the last week of August, according to 210 Analytics and IRI, and frozen desserts up 15.8%. At the same time, Catalina’s data shows consumers are looking for lighter meat products and meat alternatives. Most of the growth in bacon sales came from turkey, chicken and “light” varieties, while meat substitutes, including shelf-stable and refrigerated items, were the fifth-highest growing category over the past six months.

Sales of frozen meals, which dropped off in recent years, had rebounded before the pandemic hit thanks to suppliers revamping their products. And frozen meal sales have remained exceptionally high over the past six months, while frozen food growth overall has outpaced the rest of center store along with fresh food sales, according to 210 Analytics and IRI.

While fresh foods growth has overshadowed center store for years, during the pandemic center store growth has consistently outpaced fresh. During the last week of August, year-over-year sales of center store food items grew 6% while fresh grew just 1.3%, findings from 210 Analytics and IRI show. During Labor Day week, fresh sales outpaced center store for the first time since late June, driven by strong meat sales during the holiday weekend.

Grocers have seen month-to-month sales growth slow as shoppers spend more at restaurants and other retailers, and as unemployment benefits dry up. Inflation has also hit categories like meat and eggs, which have struggled to maintain consistent supply, though grocery executives say that pressure is easing.

Most retailers have pulled back on promotions this year amid high demand in order to maximize profits and keep pressure off an overtaxed supply chain. However, grocery executives have recently said promotional activity is starting to increase again and strategic offerings in center store could help keep sales chugging along.

Executives have also pointed out that shoppers are making fewer trips to stores but spending more when they do. Data from Catalina puts a point on this, with monthly spending per shopper reaching $330 in August, a 6% increase over July, while shopping trips were down 11% in August when compared to the same month in 2019.

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