Breakthrough Brands 2021:

Executive Summary

Since launching our Breakthrough Brands report last July, we’ve all experienced multiple, devastating stages of a global pandemic, seen social justice movements sweep across the country and beyond, and watched a highly contentious election cycle. Businesses have had to be experimental and resilient to respond to these shifting tectonic plates. And within the chaos, more opportunities have opened up for an array of exciting and boundary-pushing companies emerging as this year’s Breakthrough Brands.

Yet, it is important to note that our selection process focused more heavily on the brands that we think will have long and strong trajectories coming out of the pandemic (not only during it). We believe the brands in this report identify the edges of consumer behavior and act as early signals of shifting expectations for years to come.

And for the first time ever, we opened up this year’s nominations to the general public, receiving more than 400 candidate submissions—the highest number of nominations we’ve ever had. With everyone’s routines disrupted and more time to explore new brands, there was an influx of new (and previously niche) companies entering into the mass consciousness.

We believe the brands in this report identify the edges of consumer behavior and act as early signals of shifting expectations for years to come.

Daniel Binns, CEO, Interbrand New York

Some categories were particularly hot. Brands in the non-alcoholic (or low alcoholic) beverage, wellness, and healthcare spaces experienced a boom among consumers this year. Newer social media platforms were nominated as well, signaling a substantial move away from big brands like Facebook and Twitter. There were also some great honorable mentions that we hope to see make it onto official lists in the future—like the high-end, semi-private transportation brands Wheels up and Blade, or the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved jewelry weights brand, Bala bangles.

Inclusiveness and acceptance permeated, with personal care brands tackling taboo topics, and startups bringing representation and empowerment to POC communities in areas they’d been previously overlooked (or actively discriminated against). We also saw gaming’s dominance—as its influence permeates into other industries, its visual language and aesthetic is also being adopted.

Notably, we saw a continuation of last year’s trends in this year’s brands. For example, we welcomed a few more “corporate sustainability boosters” that addressed food waste and food systems for larger corporations—Apeel and Afresh. In addition, the customer-led “Healthcare Revolution” took on preventative and diagnostic health this year, helping to fix the overall health system by addressing issues before they become full-blown health problems.

Finally, we noticed a greater emphasis on birth and childrearing, as Millennials became parents shortly before or during the pandemic. In response, a whole new set of digital and tech solutions are growing to help them through an already vulnerable and fearful time. The parenting struggles of the last year have only highlighted this need-space, which is ripe for innovation, not only from brands, but also employers, policymakers, and service providers.

As the world slowly—but optimistically—emerges from the shadows of the pandemic and into a new reality, we know growth-stage companies will have a new set of challenges to contend with. We’re excited to see if this year’s brands continue to change customer expectations and provoke cultural change. Welcome to this year’s Breakthrough Brands.

Breakthrough Brands 2021: Report Download

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