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  • Where do we go from here is the question on everyone’s mind as we start to approach the post-pandemic new normal.

    That same question is integrated into this year’s newly released SFA State of the Specialty Food Industry research. As you can see in report highlights we published in the summer issue of Specialty Food magazine, food sales fared well in a year of stay-at-home mandates. Brick-and-mortar and online grocery sales boomed across the board, more than offsetting foodservice’s unfortunate plummet as restaurants limited seated dining or closed for good. 

    How these new norms will shake out is still unknown but based on the research and supply chain interviews, here are five shifts we expect to stay in place.

    Cooking-at-home habits. The research indicates that most people who gave extra home food preparation a serious try in the past year have created some lasting habits, at least for a few specific tasks. Whether it’s baking bread, making from-scratch soup, or using the slow cooker, home cooking will remain prevalent to a higher degree than it would have without the pandemic.  

    New foodservice business models. Supply chain interviews show foodservice operators are planning new business models that include commissaries or partnerships, outdoor dining, new recipes/menus, and delivery as part of the segment’s comeback. Increased takeout and delivery, especially, will remain elevated, in part because older adults and those with young children may be slower to return to on-premise dining and partly because many consumers now more regularly incorporate some takeout dishes into their at-home meals.

    Better ecommerce opportunities for small brands. Several industry conversations centered around improved ways to discover new products online. Retailers and makers are both looking for ways to showcase on-trend and new products in a way that is enjoyable for shoppers to browse, including reliable ways to surface local and regional products, and increase visibility for brands that support social, economic, and environmental justice causes, areas of high consumer interest.  

    Virtual sales meetings between retail buyers and makers. From what we have learned, both parties believe that the new style of meeting will be the norm going forward, though some in-person meetings will resume. Makers tell us that meetings are more efficient, and while there is less time to talk about multiple SKUs, there is a higher success with a maker’s leading SKU.

    Tighter SKU management. The one thing that major retailers want from specialty manufacturers is “your very best product.” Total SKUs have been reduced as the pandemic uncovered supply chain weakness, and 2020 results suggest that scaling back on SKUs did not harm sales. Most of the reductions have come from “me too” brands and under-performing line extensions. The new challenge for makers is how to successfully get to market all their SKUs that aren’t number-one. If a brand’s best product does well, a targeted new product that attracts many of the same users might get strong consideration. 

    You can learn more about market growth, fluctuations, and drivers, as well 10-year category tracking and forecasts by purchasing the State of the Specialty Food Industry, 2021-2022 Edition

    And weigh in on what you think the new post-pandemic industry norms will be in our discussion in the Community Hub.


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