food tin can

Many homes’ kitchen cupboards were already fully stocked with long-lasting canned goods well into 2021

Last year, every canned sub-category enjoyed frenzied value growth – often in the double digits. So sales for 2021 were destined to be disappointing by comparison.

Indeed, the six sectors in this report have shed £91.8m between them. Canned meat was hit hardest by volume declines with a 9.2% slump, while canned fish fell by 6.4% and canned pasta shrunk by 6.0%.

“All brands have suffered this year and private label is not getting away with it either,” notes Nicholas Corlett, NielsenIQ senior analytics executive.

Pandemic-fuelled stockpiling in 2020 played a part. It meant many kitchen cupboards were fully stocked with long-lasting canned goods well into 2021.

“With most brands in decline year on year after huge stockpiling in the second quarter of 2020, it is hard to differentiate between brands that are doing well,” Corlett says.

Ruth Simpson, Princes group director for foods & marketing, points out that sales were “always going to normalise over time”.

But she remains optimistic. Despite the drop-off, “we are seeing signs that there has been a reappraisal of the whole canned category as a result of the experience of consumers during lockdowns,” she says, pointing to the growth in scratch cooking.

“Nearly a third of scratch cooking occasions feature at least one canned ingredient,” Simpson adds. The pandemic essentially sparked a sea change in consumer behaviour. “Shopping habits altered dramatically, as well as the way consumers cook at home and the foods they choose to consume”.


Top launch 2021

Heinz Plant Proteinz | Kraft Heinz

Heinz Plant Proteinz

Heinz unveiled new brand Plant Proteinz in October, with the aim of making “plant-based eating accessible for all consumers”. It debuted with a trio of canned soup: Mediterranean Tomato & Bean, Coconut Curry & Jackfruit and Moroccan Chickpea & Bell Pepper (rsp: £1.50/400g). Each providing at least 14g of plant protein, they were backed by a £2.5m marketing spend – and were part of Heinz’s concerted efforts to increase plant-based offers across its product portfolio.

It’s an experience shared by Del Monte. Since the start of the pandemic, the brand has “attracted new users and lapsed users to the category” says commercial director Martin Tilney. As such, Del Monte outperformed the canned fruit sector, growing value by 19.6%.

There are a number of reasons why shoppers snapped up the brand, Tilney suggests. “Maybe they couldn’t get fresh fruit or remembered using Del Monte years ago, having mandarin flans with their grandmother,” he says. “People drift away from the category, but they’re coming back. It’s now a matter of keeping them back now the pandemic is more or less over.”

Tilney points out that though Del Monte is now starting to see a slowdown in sales, they’re still “tracking ahead” of 2019.


Heinz Beanz frequently made the news this year. The brand partnered with The Who for a limited edition can, set its Innovation Challenge, planned to enter frozen, and took to eBay and Deliveroo. Best of all, it was the star of this stomach-turning tweet by Weetabix.

In fact, the losses in each canned sector gory are smaller than the gains reported in last year’s Top Products – which suggests canned has won fans. And brands are working hard to retain their interest.

For instance, Del Monte in September became official global licensee of Steven Spielberg-produced Netflix series Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.

Alongside a TV ad, the brand is putting several lines into dinosaur-themed packs to “nurture the nostalgia of original Jurassic Park fans, whilst sparking the imagination of younger generations”.

Meanwhile, Princes and Crown continue to invest in their joint marketing initiative, ‘Love Canned Food’, providing cooking content from food influencers and chefs.

Plus, Princes has added innovations such as a canned chicken meatballs duo and canned plant-based ready meals in Lentil & Mushroom Bolognese, Mexican Mixed Bean Chilli, Vegetable Green Thai Curry and Chunky Mixed Veg Curry.

“Continuous innovation is crucial; not just for the here and now, but for the future, too,” Simpson says.

Finally, Heinz has continued to push its nascent DTC offer, Heinz To Home, which this year added gift bundles and limited edition lines such as Big Soup Christmas Dinner.

Pinched pockets

A further opportunity for canned growth could be rising inflation, says Princes’ Simpson. The lower prices that characterise the category put it “in a strong position to support shoppers as the cost of living rises”.

Indeed, volume and value rises for austerity favourite Spam – 4.2% and 3.5% respectively – support that idea.

But there could also be a downside. Increasingly pinched pockets could push shoppers away from brands and towards cheaper own label options, warns Corlett.

“The rankings and landscape are likely to continue. However, with a potential price differential change, private label is set to become more important.”

So, in summary: whether it’s own label or branded, canned food looks set to remain at the front of many shoppers’ minds for quite some time.

The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2021: who’s up, who’s down – and our overview of the key trends