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Monitor: Consumers respond to current events as pandemic resurgence heightens concerns

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A COVID-19 resurgence and a drought-driven early fire season stand out as consumer concerns well matched to natural products industry values.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, July 15, 2021
 
As the world emerges, haltingly and unevenly, from lockdown, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. 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: Influence of current events could be a good match for natural products purchases

Shopping doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

It’s not that we didn’t know that. Food trends and health scares have long driven purchase decisions across all channels of commerce, and maybe natural retail in particular. It’s just that the roar of outside events seems particularly loud right now.

And the influence on purchase patterns and consumer behavior seems particularly high.

We see that in New Hope Network consumer research. Since spring of 2020, a recurring survey has tracked consumer behavior across environmental/social issues and choices around nutrition quality, capturing values and concerns that are intrinsic to the natural and organic industry value proposition. We can compare those results to a benchmark survey covering the same topics in 2017. In the summer of 2021, we see what appears to be the influence of current events at a profound scale.

Responses for both the nutrition quality and eco-social consumer behavior are remarkably higher than when we first deployed the surveys, higher even than in the late summer of 2020 when the pandemic disrupted life at a massive scale.

 

We believe a number of factors are at work, all of them centered on the clamor of current events. The drumbeat of the apocalypse may seem to echo across every year, but a review of 2017 “top stories”—remember the Mueller report?—feels almost quaint compared to the delta variant COVID-19 resurgence, a drought-driven early wildfire season and a “return to normal” that feels economically uneven to many and awkwardly uncertain to all.

That the nutritional quality index is higher even than last summer in the opening months of the pandemic, deep into the lockdown phase, appears especially revealing. At that point in COVID-19 history, many thought it could be over relatively soon. Consumers may have thought they’d be back in the office with their children back in school by fall.

We see the indexes climb again in November and December when the daily case count spiked, only to fall off when the vaccine rollout promised an evolution toward “normal.” Now, with the delta variant driving the case count back up and that normal appearing more elusive, the indexes trend higher.

And that’s just the pandemic. Other events undoubtedly compound the concerns.

It’s interesting to compare the concerns of 2020/21 with those practically quaint stories of 2017. The Mueller report was a political matter. A damaging hurricane season was geographically defined. Even mass shootings might have felt like something consumers believe they could exercise some control around, something they could avoid.

COVI-19 was both invisible and omnipresent, a threat that intruded all the way into the home where packages on the doorstep got soaped down like hazardous materials. Global warming is, if anything, less escapable.

All of this is to say that consumers don’t shop in a vacuum. Concerns are ever-present and those concerns drive needs. Many of those needs—healthy nutrition, dietary supplements and environmentally conscious products—are what brands and retailers in our space were built to meet. 

They are, indeed, the foundations of the natural products industry.

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