Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) announced the release of its 2020 New Product Pacesetters, the 26th annual report revealing the top new product launches across food and beverage and non-food sectors.

Despite significant hurdles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, many new products managed to beat the odds and emerge as winners, making their way into shoppers’ carts during unprecedented times and resulting in multiple $100 million launches. More than a quarter of the New Product Pacesetters launched in the fourth quarter of 2019 or January 2020 saw big performances, accounting for 51 of 200 Pacesetter products, with 27 in the food and beverage sector.

“The top New Product Pacesetters of 2020 accomplished a unique feat by achieving success in circumstances never before seen in the history of Pacesetters,” said Joan Driggs, vice president of Content and Thought Leadership for IRI, in a statement. “Many shoppers made the leap to new products because their go-to brand was unavailable, but many also actively sought out innovation for new experiences, measured not just by dollars earned, but also by the ability to reach the intended audience.”

Big Brands Make a Big Impact

IRI estimates the pandemic created upward of 33 million new in-home meal occasions, leading to increased pantry-stocking and CPG spending for products from manufacturers of all sizes. Similar to previous years’ Pacesetters, less than a quarter of launches came from large companies, yet they accounted for 50% of Pacesetter dollars in 2020. Median launch sales got a bump from COVID-19, reaching $21.5 million compared to $19 million for 2019, outpacing overall CPG industry growth rates for 2020 and reinforcing the value consumers place on innovation.

New and Innovative Products Lead the Beverage Sector

New Product Pacesetters of 2020 reveal that when CPG retailers put the right products in the right place at the right time, new products win, even in unexpected conditions. Many shoppers sought innovative products that offered a sense of novelty and comfort amid the pandemic.

One trend in this year’s Pacesetters is a notable consumer interest in carbonated beverages, including sparkling waters and hard seltzers. Of the Top 25 food and beverage Pacesetters of 2020, 10 are beverages. Bud Light Seltzer, which launched in January 2020, took the No. 1 spot, followed by Truly Lemonade and Mtn Dew Zero Sugar. All of the top three food and beverage Pacesetters generated more than $100 million in sales in IRI’s measured multi-outlet markets.

Beverage alcohol products accounted for eight of the 27 beverage Pacesetters and generated a massive $547 million compared with last year’s six that brought in $198 million. In 2020, beer, wine and spirits reigned supreme as consumer celebrations and entertaining moved in-home. New product launches in this space made a huge splash, generating a combined 44% of Pacesetter beverage dollars compared with 17% last year.

Food and Beverage Leaders Balance Indulgence with Self-care, Health and Wellness

Another central theme of 2020 was balancing indulgence with self-care, a trend IRI expects to continue in CPG and retail. New Product Pacesetters show that health and indulgence can co-exist, and innovators continue to find ways to combine these two consumer values.

The popularity of good-for-you products has been on the rise since before the pandemic, and this trend has held strong in terms of new product launches. Some categories have increased in sales as people opt for products that boost their health in an effort to ward off illness.

Like beverages, ice cream and frozen novelties also offered the comfort and enjoyment that people looked for to elevate their at-home experience. Leading brands Rebel Ice Cream and Talenti Gelato Layers boast pure, clean ingredient lists, but still come in decadent flavors that offer a sense of indulgence. Rebel Ice Cream came in at No. 5 on the food and beverage New Product Pacesetters list, and was just shy of earning $100 million at $96.7 million, while Talenti Gelato Layers came in at No. 12, and My/Mochi Ice Cream at No. 15.

The Top 10 Food and Beverage New Product Pacesetters for 2020 are:

1.           Bud Light Seltzer

2.           Truly Lemonade

3.           Mtn Dew Zero Sugar

4.           Starbucks Creamers

5.           Rebel Ice Cream

6.           Reign

7.           Cheetos Popcorn

8.           Kinder Bueno

9.           REESE’S THiNS

10.         Beyond Sausage

Performance Beverages Monopolize C-store Sales

ZYN reigned supreme in the convenience channel, taking the top spot with $339.2 million in sales. Not to be outdone, beverages took nine of the Top 10 spots. While half of the Top 10 broke the $100 million threshold, overall sales were down compared with 2019, which saw eight of its Top 10 break the same barrier.

Similar to previous years, consumers turned to convenience for an energy boost, with six of the top 10 products being energy drinks.

The Top 10 C-store Pacesetters for 2020 are:


1.           ZYN

2.           Reign

3.           Bud Light Seltzer

4.           Red Bull Peach Edition

5.           Monster Energy Ultra Paradise

6.           Starbucks Tripleshot Energy

7.           Mtn Dew Zero Sugar

8.           Starbucks Frappuccino with a splash of Cold Brew

9.           Red Bull Pear Edition

10.         Coca-Cola Energy

Capturing Consumer Interest Post-pandemic

“Understanding consumer demographics and why certain products succeed is imperative for brands, both big and small, as innovation strategists work to respond to the continuously shifting marketplace,” said Larry Levin, executive vice president, Market and Shopper Intelligence and Thought Leadership at IRI. “IRI’s 2020 New Product Pacesetters and its consumer attitudes survey about new products tell a story of people staying at home, but still seeking out products and brands that offered indulgence and comfort amid the chaos of COVID-19.”