Published On: 26/01/20215.3 min read
2020 food and drink market review with The Grocer

This year has been a perilous one for many industries, but some sectors have seen an enormous uptake in demand, few more so than the grocery industry, and they’ve certainly adapted well to meet it.

In this article, we take a look at some of the most popular and fastest-growing categories of food and drink products analysed by food publishers The Grocer, whose article is composed of data taken from Nielsen, the data research and analytics organisation.

*Resourced from The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2020

Shifting Food and Drink Purchasing Habits

Buyer habits have shifted massively this year, and we’re sure you can guess why. The pandemic has caused such an enormous departure from our usual shopping habits, taking more and more people away from brick and mortar stores and pushing them online to shop for their groceries.

Not only has how people buy changed drastically but what they buy has also undergone huge alterations. For example, people tended to be buying more branded goods than before, with own-label grocery products only achieving half the growth of brands.

Nielsen’s Head of Retailer and Business Insights Mike Watkins puts this down to the fact that people trust known brands in times of uncertainty, and that –

“supermarkets needed to ensure availability and had to maximise the brands they knew they could supply and that they knew people wanted to buy”.


*Resourced from The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2020

Fastest growing categories for 2020

As buying habits have changed both in terms of how and what we buy, some categories have risen as would be expected, whereas others have seen surprise gains where nobody expected.


*Resourced from The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2020

Alcoholic Beverages

Drinks like beer, cider, wine, and spirits have all seen notable increases, as would be expected. When times are tough, people are more likely to be drowning their sorrows more regularly. Sales of lager have gone up 21.8%, or around £800m, with market leader Stella Artois snatching over £100m of that.


Home Cooking Essentials

The shift in buying behaviours has also led to, or in some cases has sprung from, the extra time we are spending at home. More and more people have turned to home cooking than ever before. Packaged goods like spices, sauces and cooking kits have become more popular.

Categories that generally stay around the same have seen significant rises; things like canned vegetables (up 13.7%), oils (up 19.3%), pasta (up 20.5%) and rice (up 12.5%) have all seen substantial growth in the year of 2020. People tend to have had more time to think about their diet choices in 2020, and this shows.

Meat is Major

Despite the fact that people are becoming more health-conscious and looking more towards plant-based alternatives, meat has still seen a substantial rise. In 2020, meat enjoyed a hefty 10.1% increase over 2019, adding £438m, with a large chunk of that going to processed pig products.

Plant-based still present

Despite the fact that meat consumption rose this year, plant-based alternatives did not suffer because of this. In fact, the meat-free category added £118m in 2020, and the shift in buying habits also lead to smaller brands being thrust into the limelight in the absence of larger scale alternatives.

Tofoo Co, for example, managed to double its sales in the last year to around £17m. Co-owner of Toofo Co, Dave Knibbs, contributes this to peoples heightened consumer awareness –

“Meat-free was growing strongly before the pandemic and if anything it’s heightened consumer awareness of what they are eating. This in turn has made them think about healthier diets and the positive role meat-free can play.”

Categories in decline in 2020

Let’s take a look at the categories which have seen the biggest drop in sales last year.

Convenience is no longer king

Categories which are usually kings of the convenience sector have seen losses this year, likely due to the reduced volume of in-store shoppers being present. Chilled ready meals took a small hit, for instance, losing £74m (3.6%) off its value in 2020. This is in part to more people experimenting and cooking at home.

Sugar taking a hit

Surprisingly, confectionery was also down slightly in 2020, with sugar confectionery down 2.7% and gum losing significantly more at 18.2%. Who’d have thought that people would eat less sugar during hard times?

The Food Retail Landscape of 2021

With consumer habits undergoing such major changes, it’s a wonder what will happen in 2021 as (hopefully) the pandemic comes under control and we regain some kind of shopping normality. But who knows, maybe these habits will become the “new shopping norm”?

It’s no surprise that e-commerce has grown massively in the last year due to COVID-19 (leaping up around $52 billion!). A large part of that was food e-commerce, with online grocery sales bumping up to around 11.5% by the end of 2020. Even lots of smaller brands were able to adapt their ways of service delivery and gain a further foothold in the online grocery shopping arena.

We will all certainly be ready to venture to our local supermarkets when things are back to normal, sure, but who’s to say that our new buying habits won’t remain engrained? It’s definitely going to be an interesting and exciting year, with more and more people buying online, and we’re hopeful that businesses both big and small will adapt to the changing climate.

Smylies are proud to be one of the first to be carbon neutral amongst all the large exporters, why not find out more about our environmental commitments?

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At Smylies, we are proud to export a wide variety of different food and drink products to businesses located across the globe. Our comprehensive  food and drink export service means you can stock your shelves with most of the items listed in The Grocer’s annual product survey, as well as many more too!

To explore the huge variety of products that we have available for worldwide export, head over to our dedicated Smylies shop today.

Or if you would rather speak to a friendly and helpful member of the Smylies team about the leading export services that we provide, give us a call now on 0151 653 3335.