Monitor: How consumers soothe their 2020 stress

Stress may be a nearly universal response to 2020, but how people deal with that stress varies. What it means for brands may vary, too.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

October 29, 2020

5 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Oct. 30, 2020

A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

Consider this: 2020 can't end soon enough, but new habits may be here to stay

Between a devastating pandemic, a season of social unrest and a bitter election season, the sooner the 2020 calendar can go into the paper shredder the better. From a mental health perspective, the best way to look at this year is going to be in the rearview mirror.

But with no fast-forward button and still weeks from that appointment with the paper shredder, what people are doing with the surplus of stress matters now, not in 2021. And it matters for natural products industry brands.

To see why it matters, New Hope Network surveyed consumers about what they are doing to deal with the overabundance of stress. The results suggest that new habits could be forming and it could be true that connections made during crisis will long outlast a year many consumers would gladly skip.

Related:Female consumers hungry for comfort this winter

In the survey, 70% of consumers reported they are more stressed than they were in 2019. Few will be surprised that the number one way these consumers are coping with the stress is through entertainment—movies and books—but aspirational activites are also high on the list. Exercise and physical activities are second to entertainment, followed by “culinary hobbies.”

How those aspirations play out in commerce, however, tells a different story.

When asked what they are buying as a result of the stress, indulgence tops the list.

Physical activity may have been the second most chosen activity but spending money on gear for such activity was dead last. The percentage of people who said they are spending more on sweet snacks came close to double the number who said they spend more on outdoor and exercise gear.

That’s not to say that consumers have taken up physical and emotional entropy as a hobbies. The number of respondents saying they are spending more on books, puzzles and games for entertainment is roughly even with the number of people who say they are spending more on alcohol. Candles and aromatherapy items are not far behind that.

Indeed, many of the categories reflect an aspirational bent that could lead to long-term consumer connection. A quarter of consumers say they are spending more on “new and interesting ingredients” for cooking. A quarter are also spending more on skin and body care products.

It’s in this aspiration that brands may have the biggest opportunity. Great numbers of consumers may be stressed by external events, but life at home may also be more simple and streamlined. Gardens got planted. An exploding number of consumers joined the Peloton population. Sourdough starters got, well, started.

Helping customers put 2020 behind them and emerge with higher intentions and healthier habits may be among the biggest opportunities the natural products industry has ever been faced.


Listen to this

Lasting changes. The “forged in crisis” ideal is often forgotten as soon as the crisis passes, but “consumer experience futurist” and author Blake Morgan notes in a piece for Forbes that consumers have a fairly optimistic view of how they will emerge from 2020. She cites statistics that 80 percent of consumers report feeling more connected to their communities, and 69 percent say COVID-19 has made them focus on their mental health and well-being.

An unsettled society. To be clear, this is nothing new to the consumer experience. In her New Hope Network Spark Change keynote presentation, “green nutritionist” Kate Geagan shares a slide from 2019, before 2020 took us off the rails, and she observes, “Even then we had incredibly high levels of stress and low well-being.”


Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure dramatic shifts in consumer behaviors as we march through COVID that is compared to a 2017 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. These indexes are assessed through bi-weekly surveys of how consumers perceive their shopping behaviors. 

The natural products industry engagement index measures dramatic shifts in social and mass media engagement—of the top 50 trends shaping the natural products industry—as we march through COVID-19 that is compared to a Q4 2019 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. The index assesses weekly keyword engagement of these top trends. 

The natural products industry investment index measures dramatic shifts in investment activity as we march through COVID-19 that is compared to a 2019 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. Nutrition Capital Network monitors weekly financial activity in the natural products industry. 


Enjoy this: One fridge at a time

The phrase “You Are What Eat” was never meant to include politics but a New York Times quiz published this week, has us questioning our assumptions about how dietary habits and voting patterns overlap. The quiz presents readers with photographs of refrigerators and challenges them to choose whether the owner is a Biden supporter or a Trump voter. A pair of warnings: it’s a bit addictive; your assumptions are probably way off (it turns out Trump supporters eat Greek yogurt too!).

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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