5th January 2021

2021: the fresh new (up)start?

As a great philosopher once wrote; the only constant in life is change. And 2020 has been full of it: from the arrival of Covid-19 and the WFH world, through the increased profile of the Black Lives Matter movement, to Brexit’s closing chapter, and the advent of a vaccine: a much-needed signifier of hope for injection (figuratively and literally) into beleaguered communities and economies.

The new decade once heralded the much-vaunted optimism of a fresh start, but 2020 has instead become synonymous with cancellation. So many industries have been adversely affected; entertainment, tourism, manufacturing, retail… with innumerable businesses falling by the wayside.

But often, the brightest lights can shine out of the darkest hours, and so it follows that new consumer habits have emerged, and existing behaviours accelerated. Although it remains to be seen which of these will be embedded into 2021 and beyond, there is cause for optimism for brands that can find relevance and create a place for themselves within new habits.

In the year when it became impossible to make plans or predict the future, consumers hunkered down, stayed in and ordered online. People stuck at home took to ordering more takeaways and Just Eat saw revenues rocket during the pandemic, with sales up around 44% compared to the start of the year.

Nearly one in five British households bought groceries online, totalling 5.7 million shoppers. The cumulative impact of lockdowns helped Ocado to achieve its highest-ever market share, thanks to industry-high sales growth of 42.2%. And discount supermarkets such as Aldi were moved to change, pivoting at speed to offer online shopping via new click and collect services.

With sales of loose food falling by around 6%, heightened awareness of public health saw shoppers choosing more pre-packed products, with retailers putting some lines in packaging and closing many fresh-food counters.

And while many companies were forced to cut jobs in face of the pandemic, Amazon went on an unparalleled hiring spree in 2020. Buoyed by swelling demand for online shopping, the e-commerce behemoth created more than 400,000 full- and part-time jobs in the first nine months of the year: increasing its workforce from 800,000 in 2019, to more than 1.1 million employees across the globe in 2020.

Within countless businesses, the pandemic has sparked new levels of agility, innovation and creativity that may otherwise have gone unharnessed. Almost three quarters (74%) of online grocery shoppers say that shopping online has allowed them to discover innovative food and drink brands, according to Mintel. And when consumers are hungry for the new, what better time for FMCG giants to go on the acquisition trail?

Meanwhile, with a plethora of vacant prime retail space to choose from, there’s every reason for niche brands to showcase themselves to innovation-hungry consumers through concept stores or pop-ups in the new year.

Move over 2020; it’s time for a change.

Bring on 2021 and let the decade begin.

Image credit: Charlotte Blunarova