Why COVID-19 Will Boost Demand For Brands With Simple Ingredients And Transparent Labels
2 septiembre 2020
Grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of adults in the U.S. are struggling with mental health issues, with stress and anxiety at the top of the list. According to Gallup, 36% of U.S. adults indicate they feel overwhelmed simply from the amount of information on the coronavirus. There’s only so much we can take, and these days, many of us are being pushed to the brink with new things to worry about, new issues to educate ourselves on, and new ways of living to navigate.
While business leaders around the globe move out of crisis management into future planning, many are wondering what their customers’ needs will be in the months and years to come.
An anxious public, unfortunately, is nothing new. For years, rates of anxiety and stress have been on the rise, especially amongst those under the age of 40. In a study I helped to conduct in partnership with Datassential last year, we found that 52% of our 1,100 survey takers agreed with the statement: “In general, my anxiety level is high.” This percentage jumped to 60% among Millennials, and 59% amongst Gen Z respondents. This finding is in line with many other reports. As one additional example, according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, starting in 2009, anxiety overtook depression as the top concern among college students, and the number of students experiencing anxiety has steadily increased since then.
The reasons for the spike in anxiety are manifold, but the impact on customer demands—particular in the CPG space—has been rather straightforward. Over the last many years, shoppers have gravitated towards brands and services that are transparent, “honest,” and convenient.
Simple product design
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
To cope with a world that seems to become more anxiety-provoking, stressful and chaotic by the day, many have begun to call on food and other lifestyle brands to help us simplify at least one small aspect of our lives: Deciding what we put in and on our bodies. In turn, shoppers have asked companies to simplify their products with easy-to-understand ingredients and transparent sourcing. In one survey, more than half of 1,300 respondents from across North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific said that recognition of ingredients was one of the biggest reported drivers of product choice.
As you’ve likely noticed, products increasingly tout labels like “clean” and “simple.” Nielsen calls this a “mainstream movement,” citing that 93 percent of US households have now purchased a “clean”-labeled product at grocery stores—be it food, vitamins, or personal care items.
Globally, people have been avoiding brands that refuse to comply with these transparency demands. A survey by Label Insight and the Food Marketing Institute found that three-quarters of shoppers say they would switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information. Meanwhile, 70 percent of survey takers queried by the Atlanta-based brand communications firm Response Media said their purchases are “always or often influenced by transparency content.” When the 2017 James Beard Foundation Consumer Research Project looked into this topic, a whopping 90 percent of respondents said they want to “understand the ingredients in their foods.” Transparent products help shoppers feel in control of their decisions, and can facilitate a sense of trust between the purchaser and the brand, thereby reducing anxiety about a products’ safety, nutrition, or environmental impact.
Some brands have found that another way to help people in anxious times isn’t to just pull back the curtain on what’s in their products, but to simplify the numbers of offerings as well. Think: Quip toothbrushes, Casper mattresses, and Away suitcases. Limiting choice is also a commanding theme in grocery with popular German supermarket chain Aldi and American favorite Trader Joe’s offering curated selection of products. For many managing unending emails, demanding workdays, and a litany of other modern stressors, these business models help make one aspect of their lives feel a bit more manageable. (I don’t need to choose between 12 kinds of ketchup? Thank you!).
Who Gives a Crap toilet paper subscription box
Recent years have also spurred an obsession with subscription boxes. Overall, between 2014 and 2017, the American subscription market increased by an astounding 831 percent. Some of these services remove the fear of missing out on a “best” face cream or salsa by letting you sample a new variety each month. Others automate common errands, freeing up both the time you’d spend at the store and the mental space commonly dedicated to remembering to restock your must-have items, be it new underwear each season, or prescription medications once a month.
At the end of the day, all companies need to take a step back and re-assess their customer needs. In an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world, rates of anxiety are not likely to wane for quite some time. In this environment, the brands that keep things simple, “authentic,” and convenient— that help people find that sense of security—are the ones who will win the hearts and dollars of an overwhelmed and exhausted public.
Sections of this article were adapted from Eve Turow-Paul’s new book, Hungry: Avocado Toast, Instagram Influencers, and Our Search for Connection and Meaning (BenBella, 2020).