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#OnShelf: Shopper marketing in 2021

by Louise Burgers. Health concerns and sustainability will drive shopper trends this year.

by Louise Burgers. As we well know, FMCG product trends and consumer shopping habits have shifted radically to healthier foods and immune boosters to supplement health during the pandemic. Last week we looked at how packaging is evolving when health is a concern for shoppers; and this week we look at shopping behaviour shifts.

There are three key themes for 2021, according to FMCG Gurus: health and wellness; safety and assurance; and taste and enjoyment. But there is also the need for gourmet and pre-cooked meals and meal kits, which is in another category all by itself with the rise of dark kitchens; brand delivery collaborations and the wholesale global destruction of the restaurant industry due to lockdowns and curfews – and in South Africa’s case, the contribution of the alcohol bans. So, the food and beverage industry is undergoing seismic shifts as a result of this crisis; and will continue to do so, as the focus shifts to at home experiences instead of going out; and online experience instead of in store shopping.

And there is no doubt that these new consumer behaviours and demand for products that sustain and heal them, as well as the planet, are here to stay. If it only takes 21 days to change a habit – what will approximately 21 months, if not longer, of this relentless trauma and lockdown and isolation do to our psyche? Much of our new shopping behaviours will be entrenched.

1. Delivery and logistics: This should be the first major focus of all retailers and food delivery as ecommerce grows across the planet, from the suburbs to informal areas; using everything from bicycles and scooters to cars and branded trucks. With the bar set by Checkers for delivery in under an hour; and Pick n Pay for same day delivery of groceries, other retailers have had to scramble to keep up. Click and collect has become an interim service and savvy shopping centres like the V&A have introduced central pick up points for all their stores in the parking lots to capture the office workers who have returned, but who still don’t want to venture into a store. This has led to the rise in handheld portal payment systems like Yoco, in tandem, as not everyone has a credit card and payment on delivery has also become a much needed option for cash cards. Rapid innovation will continue in this sector.

2. Healthy living: Consumers are proactively adopting a healthier lifestyle to mitigate the impact of Covid and boost their immune systems, investing in nutritional supplements and vitamins; as well as healthier foodstuffs. BOS Rooibos, for example, brought forward the launch of its immune boosting shots last year.

3. Basket size increase: All the FMCG retailers we spoke to for our year-end #21interviews series, said basket sizes had increased as the frequency of store visits by shoppers had decreased. To protect themselves and their loved ones, people are shopping less in store, preferring to stock up on essentials in bulk and reduce their visits.

4. Value for money: Consumers are also looking for deals and value for money; and spend on private label brands has increased as cash strapped consumers try to save money.

5. Buy local: With supply chains disrupted and local campaigns to support local producers gaining momentum to shore up economies hard hit by lockdowns, ‘buy local’ is a smart strategy when it comes to sourcing products and raw materials. A proliferation of new food delivery apps, most locally based in various geographical areas; and online service providers delivering product direct from farm to home or market to home, are also competing with major retailers with weekly veg and fruit boxes. Consumers want to support their communities, and will support retailers and brands that show the same commitment.

6. Plant based lifestyle changes: There is a definite move towards plant-based and lifestyles which prioritise fresh and whole ingredients rather than processed products, as part of the whole move towards healthier lifestyles to combat disease.

7. Purpose and sustainability: As we stop and slowdown, the earth heals, and consumers are taking note. Along with that need to feel secure, comes the need to save our planet and support brands that are actively promoting sustainability in their communities and producing sustainable products. The pandemic has highlighted these issues strongly and as consumers prioritise their own health, it becomes inexorably tied to the health of their own communities, as well as our planet.

8. Dining in: Meal kits, ready-made meals, gourmet dark kitchens, even ‘Covid immune boosting menus’ from some chefs, is revolutionising food delivery from the normal fast food takeaways of pre-Covid days.

9. Nostalgia: In this weird new lockdown world, consumers are also turning to comfort foods that made them happy in the past. I found myself making and eating a lot of popcorn in the first month of lockdown (possibly due to the drama and tension of it all); and then switching to bowls of (the original, not the horrible vanilla flavour) Rice Krispies – something I haven’t eaten since I was a child. FMCG gurus hosted a webinar on latest FMCG trends and says nostalgia is a definite trend as consumers seek out products that will make them feel secure or comforted or to escape reality – while still focusing on health. Brands take note.

10. Hygiene: Up there with the health and safety concerns is hygiene in store and at all retail points. All Covid protocols must be observed for your customers and shoppers to feel safe. If staff don’t wear their PPE properly or sanitiser stations are empty, and shops are crowded – how safe will your customers feel? Messaging has been fairly poor from most retailers and the safety aspect needs to be driven home more – in store and in advertising elsewhere. Let your customers know what you are doing to keep them safe in store and in the malls. Prevent crowding by removing shelves and till points if you have to. Make sure shoppers know where your special bulk buys are. Improve your signage in store so there is no browsing needed. I know some of this advice goes against normal store policy, which was to keep shoppers browsing for longer so they buy more, but these are unusual times. And when articles like this one in the influential Vox media say shoppers should stop visiting grocery stores altogether due to the more infectious new Covid strain, then retailers need to take notice.



Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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