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Meeting US Consumers’ Desire for Both Nutrition and Indulgence Helped CPG Leaders Grow in a Sluggish 2016

US consumer packaged goods sales rose just 1.4%, but some companies outperformed by targeting convenient, health-minded foods and beverages, as well as sweets and alcohol, according to BCG and IRI research

CHICAGO, March 6, 2017— In an otherwise lackluster year for US sales of consumer packaged goods (CPG), many of the industry’s top performers in 2016 generated growth by satisfying two seemingly contradictory desires of American consumers—for convenient nutrition and for indulgences such as confections and alcohol. This was among the findings of research released today by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and IRI.

Companies such as Blue Diamond, BodyArmor, Califia Farms, Bragg, and The Wonderful Company, which market convenient foods and “functional” beverages that contain plant-based ingredients that promote nutrition or aim at boosting energy, were among the CPG growth leaders in 2016. Also among the industry’s best performers were companies that derive much of their sales from indulgences, such as Mars, Hershey's, PepsiCo, Hostess, and Constellation Brands. Sales of ice cream, spirits, wine, and salty snacks all grew by 4% to 5%—about three times faster than retail sales in the US CPG industry overall.

Other CPG industry best performers were large and midsize companies, such as Johnson & Johnson and Unilever, which acquired small makers of health-minded foods and beverages and even personal care products containing natural ingredients. Indeed, the research found that health and beauty aids that convey “wellness” were one of the strong CPG growth categories in 2016.

"Our research shows that the growing popularity of convenient nutrition and wellness remains one of the most powerful trends in the US consumer packaged goods industry," said Jim Brennan, a BCG partner and coauthor of the study. "But this does not mean that American consumers' craving for indulgences has diminished." 

"Sales growth in these product categories is projected to remain strong, said Krishnakumar (KK) Davey, president of IRI Strategic Analytics. “As long as the products are used for human consumption, we expect these bifurcated trends—demand for health and wellness products as well as for indulgence products—to continue, irrespective of whether they are bought in traditional stores or via an intelligent personal digital assistant like Alexa on Amazon.”

The findings are based on the fifth annual analysis by BCG and IRI of the growth performance of more than 400 CPG companies with annual US retail sales of more than $100 million in measured retail channels. The channels include grocery, drug, mass-merchandise, and convenience stores. The study includes both public and private CPG companies and focuses on what consumers actually bought in measured channels, as opposed to what factories shipped. Companies are ranked on a combination of three metrics: dollar sales growth, volume sales growth, and market share gains. The study also analyzes the trends driving performance in the sector.

IRI and BCG generated three lists of growth leaders: small companies ($100 million to $1 billion in IRI-measured retail sales), midsize companies ($1 billion to $5.5 billion), and large companies (more than $5.5 billion).

The research revealed that US CPG retail sales in measured channels rose by only 1.4%, to $681 billion, compared with 3% in 2015. The sluggish sales growth was due primarily to price deflation—rather than lower unit sales. Price growth dropped to 0.8% overall in 2016, largely because of shifts in prices for commodities such as milk and eggs, after rising to 2.3% on average in the previous four years. Rising online purchases also contributed to slower CPG sales growth in conventional retail stores.

The growth leaders were able to boost their revenue with higher unit sales, as well as through pricing strategies and management of their product mix. In the rest of the CPG industry, by contrast, unit sales fell.

Reynolds American, which recently acquired Lorillard, tops the CPG growth-leader list of large companies for the second year in a row, followed by Johnson & Johnson, Tyson Foods, Grupo Bimbo, and Mars. The leaders among midsize companies are Chobani, Hostess, Energizer Holdings, Constellation Brands, and Starbucks. Topping the growth-leader list of small companies are BodyArmor, Idahoan Foods, Bragg, Bai Brands, and Daisy. The research also found that companies with sales of less than $1 billion boosted their share of the US CPG market from 25.0% in 2015 to 25.6% in 2016. Over the past five years, large companies have ceded over three percentage points in share—or around $20 billion in industry sales—to small ones.

There was significant overlap between IRI/BCG growth leaders and CPG companies that are among the best performers in delivering total shareholder return (TSR), which measures the combination of the change in share price and dividend yield for a company’s stock. Of the top five US CPG companies in BCG’s most recent Value Creators report, which ranks companies by TSR over a five-year period, four are also on the IRI/BCG growth-leader lists: Constellation Brands, Monster Energy, Reynolds American, and Tyson.

“Functional beverages”—nonalcoholic drinks promoted as having a purpose, such as improving health, boosting energy, or managing weight—was one of the hottest categories of 2016. The best performer among small CPG companies, for example, was BodyArmor, a premium sports drink brand in which basketball legend Kobe Bryant is a major shareholder. Plant-based food and beverage brands also are well represented on the lists of growth leaders. Califia Farms, for example, markets beverages with ingredients such as almond and macadamia milk, ginger, turmeric, and Central American coffee sourced by direct trade.

The research found that the desire for wellness was also a growing trend in personal care and household products in 2016. Aveeno Active Naturals skin and hair care products, for example, helped Johnson & Johnson become a growth leader in 2016. Huggies Nature Care diapers contributed to the strong performance of Kimberly-Clark. Personal care and household products with whole, natural ingredients are projected to continue growing at a compound annual rate of 7% to 9% through 2020—roughly double the expected growth rate for personal care products overall.

One important trend in 2016 was that large and midsize companies acquired personal care and food and beverage brands with wellness themes. Unilever, for example, bought Seventh Generation, a brand of eco-friendly cleaning and personal care products. Johnson & Johnson bought OGX, whose line of personal care products includes ingredients such as coconut oil, bamboo fiber, and tsubaki blossom. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group recently completed the acquisition of Bai Brands, whose line includes enhanced water, carbonated flavored water, coconut water, and premium ready-to-drink teas. 

“Even in a sluggish market, the CPG growth leaders show that opportunities abound for companies that understand evolving consumer preferences and build a strategy to capture the opportunities,” said Peri Edelstein, a BCG partner and a coauthor of the study. “The key to sustained success in this rapidly evolving market is to follow consumers around the clock and compete in the marketplace with the mentality of a startup.” 

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact BCG’s Alexandra Corriveau at +1 212 446 3261 or or IRI’s Shelley Hughes at +1 312 474 3675 or

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The Boston Consulting Group
Alexandra Corriveau
Head of Media Relations, The Americas
Tel +1 212 446 3261

Shelley Hughes
VP, Public Relations
Tel +1 312 474 3675
Cell +1 312 731 1782

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