This year's top 20 grocery categories reflect consumers' willingness to spend more on products that are either healthy or indulgent.
The soft-drinks category benefited most from these trends, recording the highest value growth, at 7%. While some of the gains derive from last year's good summer, much was contributed by strong performances from Innocent Drinks (up 107%) and Tropicana (27%). Both brands are premium and use pure fruit. Growth elsewhere in the sector came from traditional brands introducing healthier variants.
Consumers spent 6% more on fruit, vegetables and salads this year, while the 6% growth in the ambient bakery sector was driven primarily by brands such as Warburtons and Hovis adding more expensive brown and seeded variants. The strong performance of bread is impressive given that bread consumption is generally falling as consumers switch from toast to cereals at breakfast time.
Chilled convenience foods enjoyed 6% growth in a market dominated by own-label, which has an 82% share. Ready meals account for most of the sector, and here growth doubled on the previous year, largely because consumers are responding positively to the influx of upmarket products.
Even the frozen foods category appears to have turned the corner, reversing the previous year's 5% sales decline with a rise of 2%. Brands such as Birds Eye and McCain have been using their advertising and packaging to convey the message that frozen food is often fresher than chilled food. While Birds Eye has yet to turn consumers' shifting perceptions into a period of growth (its value dipped 2%), sales of its green veg and fish did rise, and it aims to repeat this success next year with its core products, including fish fingers and peas, after appointing Abbott Mead Vickers BDDO to its advertising business.
The category that has appealed least to consumers' growing health concerns is canned goods, and its sales have suffered accordingly. It is the one category to experience a sales decline this year, by 1%, and half the top 10 brands, including market leader Heinz, are in decline. Sales of own-label canned goods fell by 2%. The one bright spot in the category was Branston, whose 'Branstein' Baked Beans with added omega-3 helped drive 7% growth in the baked bean sector. With canned goods such as tomatoes, pulses and fruit ticking the 'healthy' and 'convenience' boxes, this is clearly a sector ripe for a communications overhaul.
A slowdown in sales of biscuits and confectionery, whose growth halved this year, underlines the challenges of making what can be 'unhealthy' products more acceptable. Indulgence still plays a part in people's lives and, while consumers are buying chocolate less frequently, when they do, they are opting for expensive, high-cocoa varieties. Galaxy took a different approach with its campaign to make its brand the chocolate of choice for people relaxing with a book. Its sponsorship of the British Book Awards contributed to its sales growing 24%.
Chocolate biscuit bars have been toppled from their perch by healthier biscuits for the first time and, in the category as a whole, seven of the top 10 brands - including Kit Kat, Twix, McVitie's Chocolate Digestives, McVitie's Penguin and Cadbury Fingers - all lost sales.
A beneficiary of the declining interest in confectionery and chocolate biscuits is another sector not known for its health benefits, take-home savouries, which saw its value rise by 6%. Much of the value in the category was driven by people switching from sweets and biscuits to healthier snacks.
It is clear that brand owners and retailers ignore consumers' health concerns at their peril, and through continuous innovation and compelling communications, they should be able to turn what once looked like an insurmountable threat into a lucrative marketing opportunity.