It is safe to say that 2020 has not been the year we were expecting. For the food industry, the coronavirus pandemic prompted panic buying, strained supply chains, and where outbreaks were detected in the workplace, forced facility closures around the globe.
However, FMCG new product development has managed to continue apace. In the UK alone, Nielsen recorded 4195 new product launches between January and June 2020.
It is also in the UK that manufacturers will find bolder audiences, the marketing research firm’s findings suggest, with Brits considered more adventurous in sampling new products than the rest of Europe.
Indeed, 73% of Brits are interested in buying new products regardless of COVID-19, compared to Europe’s average of 67%.
So which NPDs were the most innovative and popular amongst consumers this year? Nielsen has used its Bases model to find out.
The methodology analyses products with strong sales and measures how they reflect ‘strong, distinct qualities’ such as mass potential, longevity, brand incrementality, category distinction or appeal towards a target market.
The market research firm then compiled a list of 25 winners across Europe.
UK spearheading innovation in Europe
The UK appears to be leading the charge when it comes to food and drink innovation across the bloc: a total of eight winning product innovations were sold in the UK market this year.
Mars’ Maltesers Buttons is one such example. Originally launched in a chocolate flavour in 2018 – when it was considered ‘the fastest growing Mars Wrigley brand’ according to Nielsen data – Mars has since expanded the range. A mint SKU was rolled out in March this year.
At the time, Mars noted the NPD marked the first flavoured launch in the brand’s history, describing the product as “a delicious combination of the Maltesers trademark crunch alongside a fresh, minty flavour”.
McCain’s Lighter Home Chips was another winner in the UK market according to Nielsen's Bases model. The SKU contains 30% less fat than the brand’s original offer.
Launched in early 2019, the chips were developed to meet growing consumer demand for products that can accompany dinners during the week. At the time, the marketing director at McCain said: “With many people increasingly on the lookout for lighter options which compliment a balanced diet, we believe that lighter home chips is perfect for anyone looking for a lighter alternative without compromising on taste.”
Twinings In’fuse – a range of teabags that release flavour in cold water, rather than hot – also made Nielsen’s ‘breakthrough innovation’ list.
Launched in 2018, the line was made up of six sugar-free cold water infusions – each with an added vitamin or mineral. The Cold In’fuse ‘And Breathe’ SKU, for example, is made from pomegranate, elderflower, and lemon balm, with added magnesium.
The ‘Metabolism’ SKU, made from watermelon, apple, matcha, green tea and stevia, also contains zinc.
Other winners from the UK market include Diageo’s Baileys Strawberry & Cream, Halo Top, Hellman’s Vegan Mayo, PepsiCo-owned Walkers’ Max Strong, and KP Snacks’ McCoys Muchos.
Elsewhere in Europe
France, Germany, Russia and Turkey were also celebrated in the top 25 list, with innovations from Ferrero, Danone, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Froneri, among others.
In France, Ferrero’s Nutella Biscuits was regarded one of the winning breakthrough innovations for 2020 according to Nielsen. Launching in April 2019, the offerings are made from Ferrero’s chocolate hazelnut spread encased in a crunchy biscuit.
Danone was also awarded a spot in the top 25, with sparkling water offering Badoit Bulles de Fruit.
The range mixes natural mineral water with bubbles and ‘tangy’ juice, with no colouring or preservatives. Danone says Badoit Bulles de Fruit is 40% less sweet than the average sweetened, flavoured drink.
The line comes in four flavours: Grapefruit, touch of lemon; Lemon, touch of mint; Lemon, touch of lime; and Lemon, touch of strawberry.
Another big name, Unilever, has secured a place in Nielsen’s list for its vegan ice cream – sold under the Ben & Jerry’s brand. The dairy-free varieties are made with almond milk, and are free from all animal products, including eggs, dairy and honey.
In the German market, for which the Nielsen Bases model awarded Ben & Jerry’s plant-based offering a winning spot, the brand’s vegan ice cream is available in five flavours: Cookies on Cookie Dough, Neflix & Chill’d, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Coconutterly Caramel’d, and Peanut Butter & Cookies.
Other winners from the German market include Intersnack’s Funny-Frisch Linsen chips, Red Bull Organics, and Monster Energy Company’s (owned by Coca-Cola Group) Mango Loco Juiced Monster.
In Norway, Q-Dairies was selected a winner for its Skyr Luftig product, in Poland Roust won for its Suplica Flavoured Vodka, and an analysis of the Russian market saw Froneri celebrated for its Oreo sandwich ice cream and PepsiCo’s Lay’s Football World Cup 2018 edition.
‘Mindful living and indulgence’
Analysing the final top 25 list, Nielsen says it observed a trend: one of ‘mindful living and indulgence’. “These are clearly a source of inspiration for manufacturers,” noted the market researcher.
This, the business said, is in line with consumer preference. When surveyed, 49% of UK consumers said they have reduced their meat consumption while 46% usually check if products are ecologically friendly. “This is reflected in product innovators such as Unilever, which owns Hellmann’s, creator of a new vegan mayonnaise. Consumer mindfulness extends from sustainability into health, with 57% of UK shoppers believing that having healthy food and drink options is very important when grocery shopping,” noted Nielsen.
The more indulgent products, which may have been purchased as treats during lockdown, include Diageo’s new Strawberry & Cream liqueur, Mars’ Maltesers Buttons, and PepsiCo’s Walkers’ Max Strong crisps.
“The global lockdown has had a huge impact on consumers. Deprived of travelling and out-of-home entertainment, they are seeking adventure in other ways and this includes trying new and innovative products. What’s interesting is that 44% of this year’s winners across Europe have a premium pricing, proving that consumers are still looking to fulfil that indulgence and treat themselves. However, the pandemic has come with its challenges and it’s crucial that brands must consider being more flexible and ready to comply with changing consumer’s patterns moving forwards,” said Nielsen Bases Europe Leader Celine Grena.
“The heart of good innovation always comes down to fulfilling a consumer need. Over 50% of this year’s Breakthrough Innovations winners have at least one of the ‘healthier lifestyle’ claims compared to only 26% of last year’s winners. This is in line with the growing trend around healthier lifestyles and being mindful about products and sustainability. We can expect to see this continue to rise in popularity.”