On Trend in the “New Normal”

On Trend in the “New Normal”

Naomi Sleeper
Vice President Continuous Improvement and Strategic Initiatives
Imperial Distributors


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the supermarket industry. Over the last few months, many people have been depending on supermarkets almost exclusively for food and non-food products. Fewer shopping trips and limited available shopping destinations have led not only to larger basket sizes, but also to significant sales growth in categories that had previously been declining. Whereas some supermarket retailers had been reducing space for general merchandise (GM) in grocery stores prior to COVID-19, for example, many stores have experienced triple digit percent growth in many of these categories over the last few months.

As we transition to a “new normal” characterized by purchasing trends driven by social distancing, it is clear that many of the changes we have seen in the supermarket industry this spring will continue for a long time. The following categories that experienced significant growth in supermarkets over the last few months are expected to continue to show very high year-over-year sales trends this season.

Protective GM products: Demand for hand sanitizers, face masks, gloves and disinfectant products exceeded supply this spring. As businesses reopen and people spend more time outside of their homes, these products will remain critical to keeping people safe. In addition, a new category of protective general merchandise products—including reusable face coverings, surface shields and touch keys for preventing direct contact with commonly used surfaces—is emerging. We expect distribution and sales of these new products to continue to grow in the coming months.

Hand soaps: Thorough and frequent hand washing has been recommended by health organizations as one of the most important practices for staying healthy and safe from germs (not just the coronavirus). Assuming people’s recently improved hand washing habits stick, so will the increased demand for hand soaps.

Supplements: In addition to patent medicines like cough remedies and analgesics, immune support products—especially specific vitamins and minerals cited as even somewhat beneficial to fighting COVID-19—have spiked in demand over the past few months. While we await a vaccine, sales of these products are expected to remain extraordinary.

Kitchenware: As home cooking has increased in the context of restaurant closures over the last few months, sales of kitchen-related product—including kitchen tools and gadgets, cookware, bakeware and small appliances—have skyrocketed. Even when restaurants do reopen, capacity will be restricted in many areas, keeping sales of this category high.

Summer seasonal: During lockdown, families increased purchases of toys and puzzles to stay entertained. With stay-at-home orders loosened to “safer-at-home” recommendations, people are looking for ways to get outside and safely engage socially while maintaining social distancing at home. In many cases, this means capitalizing on private backyard space. Summer seasonal categories like grilling, outdoor entertaining, outdoor décor, patio furniture, coolers, and sun and bug protection are showing increased demand expected to extend through the summer season. Outdoor activities for kids have been particularly popular this season. A wider selection of bubble and sidewalk chalk, for example, are showing particularly high sales this season, leading supermarkets to reorder to replenish inventory on these seasonal items. In outdoor décor, solar lighting has been on trend and selling well across a broad assortment of items. As beaches and national parks reopen, we also expect to see higher than usual seasonal sales of camping and beach-related items to consumers eager for more summer activity and a change of scenery.

Keeping these categories well stocked throughout the summer will help your shoppers stay healthy—physically and mentally—throughout the season.