6 Trends That Gained Traction in 2021 - Medallion Retail
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6 Trends That Gained Traction in 2021

POSTED ON: 11/30/21

“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” 
Darryl F. Zanuck – Movie Producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

“Remote shopping, while feasible, will flop.” 
TIME Magazine, 1966

“Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”   
Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General, 1959

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.” 
Albert Einstein

Predictions vs. Trends

Sometimes it’s not that the prediction was flat-out wrong, but that it may have been short-sighted and didn’t allow for factoring in the development or maturing of the idea. Or in some cases, the developing of another idea that would bring both to fruition.

Take the remote shopping prediction for instance. While feasible, it would have absolutely flopped without the advent of microchips and home computers. I think many would be surprised to know that people have been afforded the ability to shop through catalogs, with the earliest known catalog being produced by a publisher of books as far back as 1498. And from there, as the world at large progressed and needs and demands changed, that concept grew beyond its initial inception.

Then around 1872, the concept took another dramatic and more marketable turn when Montgomery Ward published the first mail order catalog meant for the general public. At that point, remote shopping became and remained part of the shopper experience for many, many years. Until, that is, home computers came on to the scene and changed everything, again.

The prediction, short-sighted? Perhaps. Certainly not visionary and certainly not one that saw the potential of what could be when the science eventually caught up with the original idea.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.” – Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

And of course, the sending of mail via missiles, a bit far-fetched, I’d agree. But if you were to turn that idea on its head for a moment and insert technology in place of missiles, you’d be talking about emails. And it wouldn’t be hours for the mail to reach you, but seconds. Same idea. Same end point. Just a different vehicle. A far-fetched prediction for sure, particularly when referenced to “guided missiles” delivering mail. But not beyond the realm of possibility, especially when technology eventually caught up.

The purpose of raising these interesting and somewhat misguided predictions is to point out that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to precisely predict what is going to happen tomorrow. If it was that easy, we’d all be lottery winners.

I raise these examples to demonstrate that predictions, or at least those that have any value, will not solely rely on speculation or gut. Those that are worth something are those aligned with market response, data and, in the case of retail, consumer behaviors. And the best way to be accurate—or at least in the neighborhood of your predictions—is to look at trends. How they grow, what is growing and driving them and, most important, what are the potential opportunities now and in the short-term future.

Keeping A Finger on the Pulse

Being fully entrenched in the world of retail, we are forever keeping our finger on the pulse of what brings consumers to brands and how those relationships drive sales. Each year we take a look at those trends that we feel have proven to be watch-worthy and call them out. Trends that we see that have gained strength and show promise, not just for the short term but those that have the potential of serving as the catalyst for future growth and further innovation.

Most would leave it there and be happy that an interesting read was afforded. But we’re a curious bunch and like validation (who doesn’t?). So we thought, why not go back and do a check-in on how some of our predictions of trends to keep an eye out on at the start of 2021 fared over this past year. Did they die on the vine, or did they take hold? Are they still evolving?

And will we be seeing more of them in the year ahead?

Here, we revisit a selection of the top six trends we called out in early 2021; those that continued to gain momentum during the year and have the potential of growing further.

6 Trends

We have taken our chosen six trends and assigned them to the following three categories:

  • Environment – Biodegradable Microbeads, Reusable Recycling, CPG Packaging materials
  • Health & Wellness – Contactless Shopper, Therapeutic & Diagnostic Devices
  • Lifestyle – Low Alcohol / No Alcohol

ENVIRONMENT

Our choices back in January revolved around biodegradable microbeads, reusable recycling and alternative packaging to replace environmentally harmful plastics. This trend of being environmentally conscious and conscientious remains strong, especially in the CPG world. But what we’ve seen happen in this past year has been nothing short of remarkable as new innovations in packaging and products that do not contribute to landfills have entered into mainstream use and promise new, less costly biodegradable alternatives. And the innovations continue. Researchers and scientists are finding new ways, with better outcomes, to reduce waste and protect our environment.

Biodegradable Microbeads

Such is the case in the creation of Biodegradable Microbeads. This trend is truly about science catching up with concepts, making them both feasible and executional at scale.

According to a recent journal of Green Chemistry published by rsc.org, “There is evidence that humans consume approximately a credit card worth of plastic every week by weight. A recent report estimated that 14 million tons of microplastics flow in the ocean annually. Microplastics carry organic pollutants and are ingested by marine animals, thereby moving up the food chain due to their bioaccumulation characteristics, and have been found in drinking water, coastal areas, and rivers. Concerns regarding the negative effects of microplastics on the human body, such as cellular damage and inflammatory and immune reactions, are increasing.

“The global ban on plastic microbeads for personal care products has forced researchers to find sustainable alternatives. However, current biodegradable microbeads rarely offer competitive qualities such as those related to the mechanical properties, stability, and toxicity of their degraded products.”

In their pursuit of finding better alternatives, scientists looked at other substances such as walnut shells and avocado seeds, but many of these had drawbacks such as producing sharp, un-uniform edges which could damage skin when used for cosmetics and rinse-off use.

It wasn’t until the researchers turned to a substance actually born from our oceans and present in our environments, chitin (a primary hard-tissue component of crustaceans, insects and fungi), also the second most abundant natural polymer in our environment.

When they were able to synthesize “chito-beads”, they not only satisfied the requirements of biodegradability and biocompatibility, but also found chito-beads have “antibacterial, antifungal and hemostatic properties,” an added and valuable bonus.

As it turns out, chito-beads exhibit a higher cleansing efficiency than conventional polyethylene microbeads, and they can be used to remove potentially toxic elements and are stable and functional in commercial cleansing.

Although plastic microbeads have been banned in many countries, alternatives are being perfected. However, chito-beads show great promise in becoming commercially viable and environmentally safe, and we see this as a trend that will continue to grow. As scientists perfect the production process, their use in many products even outside of personal cleansers, like HBA products and household cleaners, the use of chito-beads will soon become commonplace.

Reusable Recycling

Referenced in our January 2021 trend watch, reusable recycling was tagged as the Milkman Model by Trendhunter.com. Initially, the trend pointed to subscriptions or products ordered, then once used the returned containers were recycled and/or refilled.

It’s been an interesting year and this Milkman Model, like so many other trends, has shown a shift, or should I say realignment, toward meeting its mission: to reduce consumer waste.

In the Milkman Model, the intention was to reduce the production and then eliminate the unnecessary disposal of packaging waste by refilling. This, in an overall effort to cease use of plastics (like water bottles) which, despite what most might think, don’t always wind up in the recycling process. According to the World Economic Forum, just 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally.

Reuse and an overall reduction of packaging seems, on the surface, to be something that might hit several targets. But the question is always in the execution.

Reuse vs. Recycle

In a comprehensive and insightful article by Jamie Ducharme at Time.com, Ducharme observes: “These systems have a clear appeal. They’re intuitive, for one thing: it’s easy to understand the concept of refilling a bottle, whereas it’s hard to know where the plastic container you toss in a bin actually goes, or what happens to it when it gets there. And rather than dealing with waste after the fact, circular systems reduce it at the source.

“Using the same containers, in the same form, over and over again ideally eases demand for virgin materials, reduces energy needed to spit out thousands of new plastic bottles or cardboard boxes, and prevents heaps of trash from ending up in landfills or oceans. But such programs are not perfect. They rely heavily on consumers following directions and actually reusing packages as intended, and often involve upcharges that exclude consumers without disposable income. Perhaps more importantly, the environmental benefits of these initiatives may not be as great as they appear.”

And in the article, Ducharme mentions a comment by David Luttenberger, Global Packaging Director for Mintel, that for a reuse program to work, “the simpler, the better.” He continues, “Convenience is key—but since refilling containers is never going to be easier than buying from Amazon, brands should also make it ‘more of an experience for consumers,’ with well-designed refill stations or discounts on repeat purchases.”

In a brief video on Mintel’s blog, Luttenberger explains further the benefits of refill and reduce waste packaging, his belief that this will be a continuing trend in Consumer Packaged Goods and why, post-pandemic, we will see more and more large consumer product companies getting into the game globally. 

In-Store Refills

But getting back briefly to the consumer experience, as I think this is going to be something that propels this concept through 2025 as the concept of “reuse recycling” becomes a chosen approach for many. To motivate consumer interest and cooperation, retailers and brands will need to bring the refill process in store in a way that is easy, interactive, mutually beneficial (as is monetarily for the consumer) and, well, fun.

In May of 2021 L’Occitane installed Refill Fountains at its boutiques across Europe, USA, Canada and Asia. L’Occitane has long been a leader in experiential retail, providing an in-store experience that thoroughly supports its sensory mission as well as demonstrating its environmental values. Their approach to “refill at retail” is pure perfection, driving not only online and in-store traffic, but also a loyal base of devoted customers.

This trend, without a doubt, is something to keep an eye on as early adapters like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble pledge to halve use of virgin plastics by 2025 and 2030, respectively, will drive interest and partnership in finding ways, such as reusable recycling to deliver environmentally friendly options for their consumers.

Mycelium/Environmentally Friendly Packaging

So far, in the Environment category, I’ve touched on trends having to do with the reduction of plastics in face washes and cosmetics and the reduction of product packaging.

While all of these efforts witnessed continued growth, improvement and exploration, clearly some products need to be packaged (i.e., liquids, fragile materials, etc.). And some need to be packaged simply because they’re being shipped.

At the start of 2021, we saw the pursuit of alternative and environmentally friendly packaging as something that would prove to be a growing trend and one that could bring an added value proposition for many brands in the popularity of their product. Not surprising that a recent survey conducted by McKinsey.com noted that 55% of US survey respondents report that they are extremely or very concerned about the environmental impact of product packaging. And as the year progressed, the exploration of these alternative materials has continued strong with some extremely innovative and groundbreaking R&D.

With a growing desire by consumers for brands to be on the same page as them in terms of possessing the same love for environmental stewardship, entrepreneurs stretched the boundaries of science and creativity and landed on concepts that would’ve made even Issac Asimov or Gene Roddenberry say “wow!”.

In 2021, the search for alternative packaging that neither adds to our carbon footprint nor detracts from environmental resources appeared to deepen with many innovations coming not from synthetic materials, but from plant-based sources.

Here, I’ll take a closer look at mycelium, a plant-based alternative packaging resource we called out for further growth in 2021. And why this material remains a top pick for further industry use and growth in 2022 and beyond.

Fabulous Fungi

The use of mushrooms in creating an alternative packaging substrate isn’t necessarily new. Back in 2018, the furniture giant IKEA announced that it would replace its use of Styrofoam packaging with EcoCradle (biodegradable mycelium) for all of its products.

Although this was a mainstream jump in to commercial use of packaging materials made from mushrooms, it certainly hasn’t stopped there. In fact, the use of mycelium as a material can not only be used in packaging, but also in construction, furniture, textiles (an alternative for leather) and plant-based food products, just to list but a few iterations of its use.

More than a handful of companies have sprung up around the commercial production of  mycelium like Ecovative Design, Atlast and Mycoworks, and they’re getting both attention and funding. It’s about supply and demand.

In a recent article from techcrunch.com that talks about these companies and the growing interest in the diverse use of mycelium in CPG, food and textile industries Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion For Good, said this: “The demand for new biomaterials in the fashion industry, such as mycelium, far outstrips the current supply. Ecovative is tackling this challenge head-on, committing to building a next-generation platform capable of producing mycelium at scale.”

Mycelium Foam

Curiosity Stream recently posted a video on Youtube describing the unending uses and diversity of mycelium and how product can be produced by allowing the mycelium to grow into molds using a mix of agricultural waste, which could be anything from hemp to wood chips, and it’s bound with mycelium structures. After that, the base mixture known as “the foam” is put into molds. It’s a fast process. Fibers can be found just after a few hours and the mold is formed within a week.

Matt Ferrell, the narrator of the video, goes on to explain and demonstrate, “Mycelium foam is a great insulator, resilient, safe, strong and biodegradable, which opens up the possibilities of a wide range products. A nice bonus as mycelium foam is inexpensive and cost-competitive with polystyrene foam.”

If you want to fully understand the full potential and all the benefits of this organically produced material, I highly recommend watching the video here. I promise, after watching you’ll walk away with a whole new respect of fungi and its impact on the health of this planet.

HEALTH & WELLNESS

With life trying to get back to some sense of normalcy post Covid shutdowns, health and wellness became the key focus in a lot of people’s lives—mostly from the point of ensuring, maintaining and protecting health as many reentered the physical world. We saw numerous innovations that enabled the public to do just that safely and from a proactive approach, be able to diagnose health issues before they become real problems. In this we sighted the promise of contactless shopping, as well as therapeutic and diagnostic technology and devices with trends in both of these areas growing exponentially.

Contactless Shopper

2021 has been a year of reemergence by many retailers in the brick-and-mortar space. Not running from but running to physical experiences, consumers welcomed the opportunity to once again shop or engage in person and to do this as normally as perhaps they once did. And by “normally,” I mean to say without the trepidation of having to touch things, or at least to diminish the need to.

As with many elements of the shopper or in-person experience, we’ve continued to see technology serving as the innovator and creator of workarounds that could afford the consumer a contactless encounter, without diminishing or detracting from the value of the interaction.

Touchless Vending

Take, for instance, the vending machine experience. Yes, while not your typical store shopping experience, in certain locales such as travel centers (like airports or transit hubs), they serve a very needy audience and provide a very necessary service.

So how can you make a vending machine purchase a contactless one? By the partnering of quick response code and your smartphone. At least, that’s the approach Swift Ventures took in their partnership with The Forrest Group at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Swift’s patented technology allows customers to purchase retail products quickly and safely from robotic stores, without touching any products or interacting with any salespeople. Travelers simply scan a QR code with the camera on their phone and complete their purchase using contactless payment while a robotic arm fetches and delivers their product. 

Contactless Quick Response Code

Or how about digital display kiosks, like those found in museums, tourist areas, hospitals, travel centers, hotels, etc. These, too, saw innovative changes in making them a touch-free experience by also using QR code as the conduit for the experience, allowing the user to control that experience at their discretion via their smart phone.

Freetouch, a software solutions company, has surfaced as a leading innovator in this new technology and they don’t seem to be slowing down. Allowing for contactless interaction with digital screens and kiosks, the ideas for technology are boundless. And for the public at large, no matter shopping or just visiting a museum, the control of the experience is literally and safely within the public’s hands (or should I say, their smartphones).

We’ve written extensively on the topic of QR codes and their remedy of providing the shopper a self-directed and chosen experience at retail. And now technology has driven QR use even further, beyond initial expectations, toward providing a contactless experience in the physical world.

Therapeutic & Diagnostic Devices

Nowhere in our most recent history has stress been more of a talked-about thing. The rapid changes that society has faced over the past two years as the pandemic changed our lives left us no time to comprehend, adjust and recalibrate. And resulting from a number of scenarios that compound our stress levels, sometimes with little provocation and triggered by even the most mundane activities, like eating or watching TV.

We knew earlier on in the year that therapeutic devices would continue to rise as a trend because the need to both quell stress and recognize its triggers would grow beyond a therapy pet but be readily available to the general public.

Enter wearable therapeutics. Devices that can sense stress levels and help redirect behaviors in order to thwart or avoid a negative response. And there’s no better audience to want for that than healthcare workers who remain on the front lines and likely be the most vulnerable audience here.

According to a study published September 13, 2021, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, healthcare workers with high resilience or strong emotional support were protected against the effects of stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic compared to those who had low emotional support or resilience.

“The experience of this pandemic has been especially stressful for healthcare workers, and as a community we need to be able to support them, especially as the virus persists,” said the study’s co-author Zahi Fayad, PhD, Director of the BioMedical Engineering and Imaging Institute, Co-Founder of the MSCIC, and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Medical Imaging and Bioengineering at Icahn Mount Sinai.

Monitoring Stress

Part of that stress is not only taking care of those who have contracted it but making sure those who are giving care are themselves not placed in harm’s way. Researchers monitored the participant’s physical activity and tracked subtle changes in their heart rate variability measured by an Apple Watch, which signaled the onset of Covid-19 up to seven days before the individual was diagnosed with the infection via nasal swab.

Increased attention to fitness is a key driver for the wearables market, so says Global News Wire.

“Various portable health products and software have been developed for weight management and health monitoring. Global Wearable Medical Devices Market is expected to be worth US$68.67 billion by 2027and growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20.7% from 2020 to 2027 and the North America market is expected to account for over 38.1% of the total revenues.”

Though stress is a driver of health issues, wearable devices can also provide easy and accessible support in monitoring various physiological parameters associated with disorders such as diabetes and hypertension, allowing those who have these issues to know when they may need help or medication.

Will therapeutic wearables actually be able to calm you or reduce anxiety? Some claim that they can. And although the jury may be out on that at the moment, it’s undeniable that diagnostic wearables are here and knowing what’s going on with your health upon demand is something to be valued. As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And we would bet along with the long-term projections here, that such wearables devices have the capacity of helping many, and as time progresses will get better and as a result more in demand beyond what they offer today.

LIFESTYLE

No one was left unchanged in some way as we exited 2020. And nowhere was this more evident than in 2021, when many began to come out from their lockdowns and Zoom calls, desperately wanting social interaction and in-person experiences. But, along with perhaps waistlines, lifestyles also saw changes; perhaps for the better?

Low Alcohol (Or no alcohol?)

The desire for a different social experience was in play prior to the Covid shutdowns. The “be-here-be-now” trend gained popularity as health and wellness became a primary destination for many, deciding to opt for a cleaner, less alcohol-based lifestyle.

But as the days slipped by during lockdown and at home, entertaining began to grow many who had initially celebrated the ease by which alcohol could be obtained (UBER delivery services, online ordering and takeout, etc.) began to opt for their caloric intake in the form of fun foods, rather than overindulging in on-demand margaritas.

It would seem to make sense that having to deal with the groggy morning heads from cocktails with the crew that kicked off much earlier now that working remotely eliminated the evening commute, may have been the deciding factor here. But either way you look at it, people tired quickly of the Covid at-home partying and began to seek other options when choosing beverages. Welcome “Sober October”.

According to BevAlcInsights by Drizly, “Across the United States, the non-alcoholic market accounts for over $414 million in sales, according to data analytics firm Statista, and the market is expected to expand by over five percent per year from 2021 through 2026 as consumers continue to gain interest in functional wellness beverages. Drizly data supports this anticipated rise: 40 percent of respondents in Drizly’s 2021 consumer report cited lower ABV as a consideration factor when selecting beverages.”

There are now even groups forming to get away from the “zoom quarantine happy hours” like Dry Together, a community specifically for mid-life moms looking to get away from this culture.

Low Alcohol to No Alcohol

Although, as it turns out, the “low-alcohol” trend sort of morphed into the no-alcohol trend, it doesn’t mean that the public at large was totally turned off to non-alcohol beverages that tasted like the real thing.

With brands like Spiritless, Seedlip, Lagunitas, and Clausthaler just to name a few, consumers now have an endless list of choices in NA beverages. And while we don’t believe the real stuff will be replaced any time soon, we agree with the sales projections, seeing this category and demands for it continuing to grow in 2022 and beyond.

Turning Browsers into Buyers

Trends will come and go. Some will take root more than others and have the capacity of disrupting and shaking things up. After 63+ years in the retail industry, Medallion Retail understands this and has not only embraced change but continues to be fueled and shaped by it.

Throughout our long and diverse history, we have honed our expertise in brick-and-mortar retail providing this knowledge and talent to our clients, helping those we work with to influence their in-store audience and turn browsers in to buyers.

We can do the same for you.

Contact Chris Gordon at 646.677.5618 to explore the numerous ways Medallion Retail can help and get shoppers to fall in love with your product, service, or your brand.

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