Many shoppers are switching CPG brands right now – and not just to save money

A lot of attention is being paid to what categories shoppers are buying these days, particularly as so many purchases shift online. While this sets the context for how much a category is growing/shrinking, it’s also important for marketers to understand the brand switching behavior within it – and the underlying motivators behind those shifts.

This was one of the focus areas of our most recent weekly BrandSpark Shopper Survey. As a starting point, we asked shoppers whether they’d recently purchased a different brand than they typically do across a variety of categories. A sample of these categories are shown below, and as you can see it varies quite a lot, ranging from 21% for alcohol to 41% for shelf-stable food & beverages.

Recently Purchased a Different Brand than Usual in the Category

That’s a fair bit of switching going on across many categories – and our next step was to start understanding why. Shoppers were provided with three main options:

  1. Preferred brand was sold out (they had to)
  2. They wanted to save some money
  3. They wanted to treat themselves to a premium brand.

As shown in Figure 2, the underlying drivers vary quite a bit by category.

Reasons for Switching Brands

Here are a few key insights and questions coming out of the data

  1. In some categories, treating yourself trumps saving money as a driver of brand switching. Alcoholic beverages and cosmetics are two examples where those that switch brands are more likely to say it was to treat themselves to a premium option rather than saving money. It’s a helpful reminder that even with all the economic challenges, there are many shoppers with more disposable income to spend right now, particularly with so many services shut down. It could be a great time to get them to “trade up” as people look to treat themselves
  2. A lot of food and household care shoppers are being forced to try new brands – how many will stick with them? Approximately ¼ of shelf-stable food shoppers recently purchased a different brand than usual simply because they had to. That amounts to an extraordinary amount of forced brand trial happening, and it’s important for marketers to start understanding if shoppers will stick with their new choice or switch back. Knowing how stubborn shoppers were about the preferences to begin with is a good place to start; after that it’s about understanding the key levers to pull to ensure they return (or alternatively, if you are the brand they switched to, don’t).
  3. Will shoppers start treating themselves to more personal care products soon? Personal care is one of the categories where the drivers of brand switching are currently primarily either force (had to) or to save money. It will be interesting to monitor if we start seeing an uptrend in people treating themselves to more new brands to improve their overall health and happiness.

Of course these are broad category definitions. Over the coming weeks we’re going to be exploring how these drivers of brand switching vary by more specific categories, particularly those that were in our BrandSpark Most Trusted Awards program. Our hypothesis is that even in areas like shelf-stable food & beverages and personal care, there are a number of specific categories where shoppers are treating themselves to some premium choices – which could have long-lasting impacts on category dynamics. If you are a marketer with a particular category you’d like to ensure we test, or have another hypothesis you want to engage our Shopper Army community about, please contact us at