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What New Product Rankings Reveal About the Priority of Care

Progressive Grocer talks with Circana’s Joan Driggs about what fueled the 2024 Pacesetters
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Similac's 360 Total Care, one of that brand's functional infant formulas, topped Circana's 2024 New Product Pacesetter list.

If 2022 was a wonky year for product development, following pandemic-era logistical lags and COVID-related launches like test kits and cleaning supplies, 2023 saw a return to rollouts, especially those centered on care. That’s one conclusion from Circana’s "2024 New Product Pacesetters Report."

“It looked like innovation was down in 2023 but that’s not true – it’s just lapping what happened in 2022,” Joan Driggs, VP of content and thought leadership for the Chicago-based Circana (and former Progressive Grocer editorial director) said in a recent interview. 

[RELATED: The Top New Products – And The Trends Behind Them]

For example, the No. 1 launch on the food and beverage side was a baby formula, Similac 360 Total Care. New parents catapulted that item to the top as birth rates rose, particularly among women younger than 25 and those having their first child. “If you look at 2023, baby was back. It had not been on the Pacesetters (list) really at all in 2022. There was a real baby bump,” Driggs affirmed, adding that the baby market generated around $300 million in sales last year.

While baby care items and hydration/rapid hydration products were headliners on the food and beverage side, there were some noteworthy R&D trends on the nonfood side as well that grocers can heed. Premium, value-added and uber-functional products raked in sales after their respective introductions, Circana’s research found.

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“With nonfood, a lot of it is the professional level of whatever the product is – service-level or professional-level results,” Driggs said, citing the clamor for high-tech toothbrushes and “super-charging” teeth whiteners.

The top two nonfood products – Gain+Odor Defense and Tide Ultra OXI with Odor Eliminators – reflect consumer demand for items that clean well and also remove odor, a signal that self-care is important to consumers. “Laundry is always on the Pacesetters, but this year the big takeaway is odor removal,” observed Driggs, speculating that people may be interested in that functionality because it may be harder to mask odors on contemporary workout wear. “Both of those products eliminate ground-in odors that are stuck in fibers.”

Another trend in household care and cleaning products is the popularity of subtle fragrances. “Lighter scents, like Ocean Mist, are an interesting twist,” Driggs said. Brands that offer both interesting and lighter scents, such as Raw Sugar and Kristen Ess, landed in the top 10 nonfood Pacesetters ranking. 

If baby and enhanced personal care found audiences, so did pet care products. “Pet is also perennially a part of the Pacesetters list, but pet parents now tend to buy for pets the way they do for other people, giving toys or gifts to their pets throughout the year,” noted Driggs. Premium and clean label foods and treats are also in demand among pet parents, as novel products like gourmet treats and snacks made with real bone marrow racked up sales. 

As for what surprised her this time around, Driggs pointed to supplier partners who are scoring gains for their food and beverage and nonfood products that resonate with shoppers. “What we didn’t see coming was where the innovation was coming from. Many small companies rose to the top and had new products on the Pacesetters,” said Driggs, suggesting that the ongoing market headwinds like inflation and macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns may be factors. “Many companies did the same thing during the pandemic as they did during the Great Recession – they took a look at their total assortment and got rid of products that are hard to manufacture or didn’t have the right margins. That opened the door for smaller companies to get up and step in."

To that point, Circana’s researchers showed that manufacturers with less than $500 million in sales represented 59% of New Product Pacesetters by count, up 41% from the prior year.

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