Company Updates

Unexpected, Unprecedented & Unusual: The Top Trends Dominating 2020



Aug 27, 2020

A month-by-month data deep dive into America’s quirky shelter-in-place cravings

When it comes to trends, 2018 was undoubtedly the year of plant-based meat, while 2019 saw a winner with spiked seltzer. So what’s on deck for 2020? So far, toilet paper and antibacterial soap are strong contenders to take the top spot. But, based on what consumers are buying via Instacart, there are a few emerging, and slightly unusual, products finding their way into grocery baskets across America.

The last six months have been unprecedented and unexpected for everyone. As shelter-in-place orders rolled out nationwide, people’s sense of normalcy changed almost instantaneously, and many turned to grocery delivery services to get the items they need safely. As Instacart baskets started filling up, our Senior Product Manager and Trends Expert, Laurentia Romaniuk, partnered with our data science team to better understand just how drastically America’s shopping habits were changing in the wake of COVID-19.

The team looked into anonymized search data, examining aisle-by-aisle performance and trending terms to trace the peaks and valleys of online grocery through winter, spring, and summer. And what we found confirmed a lot of suspicions. Spoiler alert: a lot of people were searching for toilet paper in March. However, as the quarantine lifestyle continued, a surprising set of products began to pop. We sat down with Laurentia to dig into the top trends dominating 2020…so far.

When Clorox and Lysol became essential goods

With news surrounding COVID-19 increasing in early March, we started to see two rather unsurprising categories surge on the Instacart marketplace when compared to February totals.

Laurentia: Cleaning products and household goods dominated search trends in early March. We observed brand names like “Clorox” and “Lysol” emerge as popular terms as consumers began scouring digital shelves for trusted disinfectant products.

Searches in both the Household Cleaning and Personal Care/Bathroom Needs categories rise in unison through the month of March. Data includes customer growth.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that the other top products that became impossible to find included toilet paper, hand soap, and hand sanitizer. For additional context, searches for “hand sanitizer” surged in early March (a 3,582% increase compared to February totals) due to a wave of new Instacart customers joining the platform and intense product demand.

Baking homemade sourdough, a cultural pastime

With the stay-at-home orders in full swing, people started to spend more time experimenting in the kitchen and indulging in homemade comfort foods to pass the time. Enter: homemade sourdough and banana bread.

The wild surges we experienced in the baking category led us to believe that consumers started feeding those sourdough starters and preheating their ovens in early April. “Yeast” and “all-purpose flour” proved to be two of our most popular search terms platform-wide in early spring.

“Yeast” experienced one of the most dramatic upswings in search through March, experiencing a nearly 12x boom in searches. This jump was powered by new Instacart customers and intense demand.

Aside from homemade bread, other comforting foods and seasonal flavors began to unexpectedly trend during the early days, including the classic fall favorite pumpkin spice.

Laurentia: “We were surprised to see searches for ‘pumpkin spice’ and ‘pumpkin’ start spiking as early as March this year. Given that pumpkin spice is associated with coziness and pleasant Fall activities, it seems that consumers may be seeking extra comfort during an unsettling time.”

In fact, consumers began craving the seasonal flavor a whopping 15 weeks earlier this year than in 2018 and 2019. While it’s no surprise that America’s love for pumpkin spice runs deep, the early search surges serve as a good proof point that this trend is absolutely here to stay.

Long hair, absolutely do care

As winter turned to spring, many Americans became desperate for personal grooming products after going weeks without hair cuts or coloring, manicures, and everything else in between. This is when niche goods in non-traditional grocery aisles like beauty and personal care began to spike. In particular, nail polish, tanning lotion, and hair care products proved popular amongst those eager for some self-care.

Laurentia: “At the one-month mark of many COVID-19-related lockdowns, searches for hair clippers and at-home hair dyes skyrocketed. With salons and barbershops closed, consumers began self-styling their hair, turning to grocery stores for a trim and a touch-up.”

Search performance of the term “hair clippers” in 2020 compared to 2019, adjusted for growth.

Ah, the great outdoors

Once spring had sprung, at-home hobbyists left their living rooms and set up camp in their backyards to greet the warm weather. We observed familiar seasonal items trickle into trending search terms. Barbeque-related products like grill fuel, hamburger buns, charcoal, and fresh produce like melons saw a predictable uptick in search.

However, one unexpected outdoor item caught us by surprise: bird food. In an effort to better understand the recent popularity of bird food, we dug deeper to find out if the trend was related to normal seasonal changes or the effects of the stay-at-home order. To do that, we adjusted the data to account for the platform-wide growth we saw throughout COVID-19. What we discovered was another at-home quarantine trend — searches for bird food increased by as much as 450% in the spring. Here birdie birdie!

Search performance of the term “bird food” in 2020 compared to 2019, adjusted for growth.

Laurentia: In the spring of 2020, homebound nature-lovers turned to Instacart to kickstart their backyard birding habit. Just after the first stay-at-home order in the United States was issued, searches for ‘bird food’ began to climb, vastly outpacing its performance in 2019. With more and more people taking “staycations” and spending time in their yards as the weather warms, it makes sense that we’ve all taken up birding — an inexpensive, socially distant hobby.

‘Fall’ing into healthy habits

As we turn the corner into fall, Laurentia and the team are now looking at the fastest rising search terms across our digital aisles to predict what products may start to trend in the months ahead. In August we’re seeing classic fall favorites and back-to-school staples like Lunchables, pumpkin spice, pickling/mason jars, spaghetti squash, and shelf-stable gravy tick upwards.

In addition, our preliminary data shows that consumers are also starting to pay closer attention to their health and sleeping habits this fall. Laurentia weighs in …

Laurentia: “Melatonin” was in our top ten fastest-growing search terms in early August, leaping up 139 slots in our search rankings in just four weeks. Protein supplements and acai health drinks also appeared on our list. As parents turn their attention back to remote work, at-home schooling, and life inside, I predict we’ll see more products in the dietary and health supplement categories trend this fall.”

Will the health and supplements aisles hold their own through the fall? Or will we ditch our good habits as the days become shorter, the temperatures dip, and the holidays near? Laurentia will keep her eyes on the data and upcoming trends. Stay tuned for more data dispatches from our digital aisles and follow along on social at #InstacartInsights.



Instacart is the leading online grocery platform in North America, partnering with more than 750 beloved national, regional and local retailers, including unique brand names, to deliver from more than 70,000 stores across more than 5,500 cities in North America. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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