Home News Thought Leadership Capitalizing on Anticipated Retail Category Growth

May 2021

FEATURE ARTICLE

Eyeing the Future of
Consumer Behavior:

Capitalizing on Anticipated
Category Growth
in the New Normal

A dizzying array of changes in consumer behavior will touch nearly every industry as the reopening period progresses, vaccination rates rise, more schools and businesses open, and people start to emerge from their homes and re-enter the larger world. Changes to work and school patterns, and the reemergence of dining out and other experiential spending, will affect how consumers reprioritize their spending in the coming months and beyond.

At the same time, NPD’s industry analysts expect many behaviors that were adopted during the pandemic will stick around over the longer term. The task for managers of successful brands and retailers will be to determine to what degree the consumption trends in particular categories will be characterized by continuation or by change. As we look to what the future might have in store, it’s important to understand that trends influencing one product category will often also have wide-reaching implications that extend into other categories and industries.

In the next sections, we will travel across tech, accessories, food, and home, to see where certain trends from last year originated and how they are expected to play out in the coming months. Some of the anticipated trends below reflect a continuation of consumer behaviors adopted during the pandemic, others were existing trends that got a boost during the pandemic, while others reflect changes that NPD analysts expect to occur as more regions of the U.S. start to reopen. They’re all important to watch as companies assess the impact effects of longer-term consumer behavior shifts in their own categories, as well as adjacent ones.

Hollywood at Home on the Big(ger) Screen

Last year, home entertainment became even more central to the lives of consumers, as people spent more time at home. “TVs, among and other consumer tech products, experienced strong sales, with notable shifts in the installed base,” said John Buffone, executive director of NPD’s Connected Intelligence. “Without the ability to go to the movies, or attend live entertainment events, Americans shifted their spending to technology that offered in-home opportunities to consume content.”

With consumers looking to replace and upgrade their LCD TVs during the pandemic, unit sales increased 20% in 2020 compared to 2019 — and strong performance for LCD TVs is expected to continue. The Future of Tech report forecasts that annual unit sales of LCD TVs in 2023 will be more than 2 million units higher than 2019 levels.

“During the pandemic, consumers were buying bigger screens and newer, more modern technology to support their at-home entertainment needs. This commitment to new technology, and the value consumer, provides will be key aspect of the continued growth in larger screen TVs in 2021 and beyond,” said Technology Industry Advisor, Stephen Baker.


During the pandemic, consumers were buying bigger screens and newer, more modern technology to support their at-home entertainment needs. This commitment to new technology, and the value consumer, provides will be key aspect of the continued growth in larger screen TVs in 2021 and beyond.” 

Stephen Baker - Vice President, Industry Advisor


Bigger, better, newer, and with more streaming capabilities than ever before, TVs will be instrumental in setting the stage for the home entertainment ecosystem of the future and how consumers are spending their time. As always, brands and retailers across industries must keep abreast of where consumer attention is being diverted, in order to effectively identify new opportunities.

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Popcorn Topped Pandemic Snacking

Perhaps unsurprisingly, increased engagement with home entertainment content also fed into the snacking cravings among U.S. consumers. In fact, the number of snacks consumed while viewing streaming video content increased 9% in 2020 versus the prior year, according to the Future of Snacking report.  The ready-to-eat variety of popcorn was among the top-growing snack foods as the pandemic hit last year. What’s more, popcorn’s surge is expected to continue. The category is forecast to be the fastest growing snack food studied through 2023, our Future of Snacking Report found.


A time-tested movie-night favorite, popcorn was well-positioned to benefit from increased digital streaming used to pass time and relieve boredom,” said Food Industry Analyst Darren Seifer. “It was no surprise that in 2020 boredom was among the fastest-growing mood states. We found changes in mood affected the snacks people consumed — and ready-to-eat popcorn was frequently used as a tonic for boredom.”

Darren Seifer - Executive Director, Industry Analyst


“A time-tested movie-night favorite, popcorn was well-positioned to benefit from increased digital streaming used to pass time and relieve boredom,” said Food Industry Analyst Darren Seifer. “It was no surprise that in 2020 boredom was among the fastest-growing mood states. We found changes in mood affected the snacks people consumed — and ready-to-eat popcorn was frequently used as a tonic for boredom.”

Returning to offices and other in-person activities means consumers will have to rethink a number of their daily habits, including how they feed themselves during the day. “As consumers spend more time outside the home, they will increasingly look for snack foods to serve a functional purpose, namely keeping themselves full between meals,” Seifer said.

Functional Accessorizing

Beyond snacking, the need for function is also playing out in other categories, including in the world of accessories. In fact, the biggest opportunities for growth in this category will come from more functional items, like luggage, backpacks, and hands-free bags that can be worn multiple ways. “Luggage, backpacks, and handbags will again align with consumer priorities, as they return to travel, commuting, and gatherings,” said Industry Analyst Beth Goldstein.

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Ready or Reluctant: Social Gatherings Resume

The reemergence of social gatherings will continue to shift consumption patterns, and while we might expect social gatherings to spring back to pre-pandemic levels, Home Industry Advisor, Joe Derochowski, cautions brands to keep a careful eye on how consumers might be approaching those situations after keeping distant for so long.

“While there’s a pent-up desire to socialize, hosts and guests will need to consider whether their social activities will take place indoors or outdoors,” Derochowski said. “Other considerations include comfort with sharing foods from the same tray or bowl, or whether to serve guests in individual containers or packages.” Housewares dollar sales are forecast to grow double-digits in 2023 relative to 2019 levels, our Future of Home report found. Brands and retailers that effectively stay ahead of trends related to the products consumers use for both dining and entertaining at home are positioned to capitalize on a growing market.

Looking Outward and Forward

The next several months will be characterized by continued uncertainty, as the road to retail repositioning progresses. Amid that uncertainty, it will be essential for leading retail companies and brands to monitor on how consumer needs are changing. “It is critical for manufacturers and retailers to embrace the element of looking beyond their immediate parameters, and finding synergies with non-traditional product categories, in order to understand what’s going to happen in their own part of the business,” said Chief Industry Advisor, Retail, Marshal Cohen.

A wide array of consumer lifestyle shifts must be taken into account, when businesses are evaluating category-level trends. Regardless of whether your company makes popcorn, TVs, backpacks, or any other type of product, keep in mind that consumer preferences have undergone profound shifts since March 2020. Now is the perfect time for companies to look outward, embracing unexpected connections and opportunities to redefine and reinvigorate the markets in which they operate.

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