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Energy Drinks Dominate 2020's Most Successful C-store New Product Launches

Beverages took nine of the top 10 spots, while a tobacco product claimed the No. 1 slot.

CHICAGO — Despite significant hurdles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many new products managed to beat the odds and emerge as IRI's 2020 New Product Pacesetters, making their way into shoppers' carts during unprecedented times and resulting in multiple $100 million launches.

The 26th annual New Product Pacesetters report revealed the top new product launches across food and beverage and nonfood sectors.

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.

"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. "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."

Performance Beverages Monopolize C-store Sales

ZYN reigned supreme in the convenience channel, taking the top spot with $339.2 million in sales, but 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.

The Top 10 c-store Pacesetters for 2020 are:

  1. ZYN
  2. Reign
  3. Bud Light Seltzer
  4. Red Bull Peach Edition
  5. Monster Energy Ultra Paradise
  6. Starbucks Tripleshot Energy
  7. Mtn Dew Zero Sugar
  8. Starbucks Frappuccino with a splash of Cold Brew
  9. Red Bull Pear Edition
  10. Coca-Cola Energy

The Beverage Sector Leads

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.

Alcoholic beverages accounted for eight of the 27 beverage Pacesetters and generated $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 percent of Pacesetter beverage dollars compared with 17 percent last year.

Food & Beverage Leaders Balance Indulgence With Self-Care, Health & Wellness

Another central theme of 2020 was balancing indulgence with self-care — a trend IRI expects to continue in consumer packaged goods (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.

The Top 10 Food and Beverage New Product Pacesetters for 2020 are:

  1. Bud Light Seltzer
  2. Truly Lemonade
  3. Mtn Dew Zero Sugar
  4. Starbucks Creamers
  5. Rebel Ice Cream
  6. Reign
  7. Cheetos Popcorn
  8. Kinder Bueno
  10. Beyond Sausage

Nonfood Products Enhancing 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. 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 percent 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.

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.

The Top 10 Nonfood New Product Pacesetters for 2020 are:

  1. Downy Infusions Scents
  2. Brawny Tear-A-Square
  3. Greenies
  4. JUUL
  5. Native
  6. Duracell Optimum
  7. Viva Multi-Surface Cloth
  8. Olay Retinol24
  9. Mucinex Nightshift
  10. Primatene MIST

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.

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, IRI. "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."

Chicago-based IRI is a fast-growing, leading provider of big data, predictive analytics and forward-looking insights that help CPG, over the counter health care organizations, retailers, and financial services and media companies grow their businesses.

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