9 Small Categories Driving Traffic

convenience store

A new shopper intelligence report from St. Petersburg, Fla.-based research firm Catalina reveals the fastest-growing product categories in the center store.

The survey highlights how evolving shopper motivations are affecting volume and trips in a variety of important center-store food and beverage categories. (For the report, center store is defined as grocery, frozen and home care categories, with tobacco and alcohol excluded due to local legal variances.)

“The center store is not dead. In fact, a new generation of product innovators and brands are reinvigorating the center store to remain relevant with changing shopper tastes and behaviors,” the Catalina report says.

Catalina Research offered retailers four suggestions for capitalizing on center-store fortunes, including:

  1. Create something new. The data shows that more than 99% of shoppers who buy from the perimeter also purchase from the center store.
  2. Be transparent. Be premium.
  3. Command shelf space. Retailers who neglect the center do so at their own peril. Suppliers need to make sure their unique product is part of a retailer’s merchandising mix.
  4. Showcase your advantage. Catalina estimates that more than eight in 10 new CPG products fail within two years of introduction.

Click through for a look at the growing categories and new-product suggestions to liven up each segment. The following data reflects a 104-week period ending Dec. 30, 2017.

Ice cream

halo top

Nonfat/low-fat/light ice cream experienced dramatic growth in 2017, placing it at the top of the Catalina list for trip/dollar sales growth. While regular and premium ice cream saw a decline in trips and dollars sales per store, the nonfat/low-fat/light subcategory generated more than a half-million new trips (a 32% increase) and a 67% increase in dollar sales, according to Catalina.

Halo Top “keeps it simple,” the company said, making ice cream so consumers can enjoy it as a regular part of their diets, at just 280 to 360 calories per pint.

Miscellaneous snacks

barnana plantain chips

Led by the likes of vegetable, bean and plantain chips, miscellaneous snacks registered an 11.8% trip-frequency increase and 14.9% increase in dollar sales. Snack-miscellaneous, as Catalina dubs it, stands apart from the ordinary salty categories because it appeals to consumers seeking healthier alternatives.

Barnana recently added Plantain Chips to its portfolio. The chips are fried in organic coconut oil and are paleo-friendly, grain-free, vegan and non-GMO. They are available in Himalayan Pink Sea Salt, Acapulco Lime and Sea Salt & Vinegar flavors.

RTD coffee

dunkin donuts coffee

Ready-to-drink, single-serve coffee (15.5% trip growth, 14.4% dollar sales increase) saw the average shopper spending $19.71 for the category. However, what Catalina calls "high protein seekers" spent $54.26, purchasing products such as protein-enhanced, nondairy and low-sugar alternatives. Private label saw some of its best success within the RTD coffee category.

Dunkin’ Donuts added Cookies & Cream to its bottled ready-to-drink iced coffee beverage line, joining Original, Mocha, Espresso and French Vanilla. The beverages are made according to chain specifications by relying on high-quality Arabica coffee blends with real milk and sugar.

Meat snacks

dukes original recipe bag

Catalina’s research shows that 78% of grocery trip baskets include center-store items. “Products that capitalize on center-store strengths will be winners in this perennial grocery stronghold,” according to Catalina. Dried meat snacks experienced 10.7% trip growth and 10.3% growth in dollar sales over the past two years.

Short on size, not on flavor, Duke’s (Thanasi Foods’) slow-dried sausages are made from the best ingredients the supplier could get its hands on and are slow-smoked to be pint-sized perfections, the company said.

Niche categories


In response to changing preferences, niche subcategories are seeing increases in trips, according to Catalina. Small CPG brands (less than $1 billion in sales) are now the main drivers of new shoppers and new trips to the center store, according to Catalina’s research.

One is Minneapolis-based JonnyPops, which just expanded upon its fruit lineup of smoothies on a stick with a new Delights line in five flavors. Each Delights flavor is made from simple ingredients and has less than 200 calories per pop.

Premium chocolate

endangered species chocolate

In the premium chocolate category, the brands on the leading edge are promoting products as being wheat- and gluten-free. So-called wheat and gluten avoiders far outspent the average shopper within this category, Catalina said; this consumer group spends about $22.27 to find these ingredient profiles.

Indianapolis-based Endangered Species makes all-natural and organic chocolate bars with illustrations of endangered animal species on them. The brand is certified gluten-free, containing less than 10 parts per million of gluten. The variety of dark- and milk-chocolate flavors includes dark chocolate raspberry, dark chocolate with espresso and milk chocolate with cherries.

Sparkling water

la croix

On the supplier side of center-store recognition, LaCroix “is reinvigorating an existing category with uncommon but on-trend flavors such as tangerine and coconut,” according to Catalina.

“Sparkling waters may also be reaping the benefit of an observed 3.8% decline in trips in the soda category,” the researcher said.

Apple cider vinegar

braggs apple cider vinegar

Another emerging center-store producer in 2017 was Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Bragg Live Food Products, a brand that enjoyed a substantial 46% boost in sales, a 43% increase in traffic and 41% more shoppers driven by the perceived health benefits of its apple cider vinegar, according to Catalina.


kings hawaiian sweet island ginger sauce

King’s Hawaiian is delivering growth through innovations, as witnessed by its migration to new categories, such as marinades and buns. It grew penetration by 5.4% and increased shopper frequency and dollars per trip by 2.6%, according to Catalina Research. The company recently introduced Sweet Island Ginger Sauce with real Hawaiian ginger and a dash of sesame seeds, which can be used to grill, dip, marinate or glaze.