A slumping national economy took its toll on food and drink manufacturers in 2009.Mintel’s Global New Product Database(GNPD), Chicago, says retail food and drink new product launches dropped nearly 30 percent last year from 2008.

“In the last decade, Mintel GNPD has only tracked occasional, small declines in new product introductions for the US market, never a decline as strong as this,” notes Lynn Dornblaser, leading new product expert at Mintel. “We see that a number of small companies, which typically introduce a wide range of products, have been stopping or slowing their introductions due to the economy. Additionally, some categories have simply become so over-saturated that there is little room for new products.”

Despite this declining trend, there are some categories and claims that found a hidden niche in which to excel. Ethical and environmental claims increased from 9 percent of all product launches in 2008 to 17 percent in 2009. Specifically in this category, the environmentally friendly packaging claim nearly tripled, growing from 3 percent of all products launched in 2008 to 9 percent in 2009.

“The increase in ethical and environmental claims is less about companies introducing new products or changing their packaging and more about manufacturers communicating with their consumers and knowing what’s important to the people who purchase their products,” says Dornblaser.

Meanwhile, in clear correlation with the recession, products boasting an economy claim have increased by 72 percent from 2008 to 2009*.

In addition, side dishes was one of the few categories of food and drink that saw an increase in 2009, with 16 percent more launches than in 2008*. This increase is most likely due to more people eating in and the introduction of products that offer convenient solutions, such as vegetable steam bags.

Still, most categories saw decreases due to the down economy, notes Dornblaser: “Natural and organic products, which saw large increases in 2008, took a few steps back in 2009 due to their higher price points.”

Food and drink introductions with an all-natural claim decreased from 15 percent of all launches in 2008 to 13 percent in 2009. The organic claim, showed a similar decline of 12 percent to 10 percent in the same time frame.

*These numbers are based on a percentage difference from 2008 to 2009, not based on a percentage of total launches.