Interbrand’s Naeiri Zargarian details how remote living and working and an increased focus on wellbeing has resulted in a fertile business environment for brands across a range of sectors.

Amid the chaos and changing circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic – from restrictions and health concerns to hybrid working – people’s behavior and priorities have shifted. But how many of these changes (both big and small) will endure post-COVID remains to be seen.

For all brands, adapting to people’s changing needs and wants has been a primary focus. But for some brands in the early stages of growth, the new economic landscape and change in customer behavior have been particularly advantageous. 

In the Interbrand Breakthrough Brands 2021, report we highlighted 30 challenger brands positioned to disrupt their respective markets/verticals, many of which found success in spite of, or because of, the pandemic. This year, we received more than 400 public nominations which we narrowed down to 30 through a multi-gate process with data and counsel from our partners at Apollo, Cspace, Infegy and Blackstone Growth. 

The combination of remote living and working, with the increased focus on wellbeing for the last year and a half, has created a fertile business environment for brands in several sectors, and as some of these consumer behavior changes become ingrained – spawned by the pandemic, and now part of the everyday – these brands have the possibility to continue succeeding into 2022 and beyond.

In the health sector, Breakthrough Brands included (in-home diagnostics), Frida Mom (postnatal wellness), wearable tech Oura Ring, and Zwift. Not all are full-on disruptors in that some are joining existing products and services in similar territories, but all have the brand positioning or cut-through that has benefited from changed consumer habits – especially people’s desire to better themselves following more personal reappraisal during lockdown. 

Zwift’s CEO and co-Founder, Eric Min said the idea for the company came from his own personal dilemma of not having enough time to ride outdoors. He had turned to indoor cycling simulators but still missed the social aspect of cycling. So, Zwift uses multiplayer gaming technology to create a social fitness environment that lets you train, explore, and compete with other riders to keep that social network. And, as we saw in lockdown, maintaining society and connection through an online or virtual world can be hugely important., an at-home diagnostics start-up, enables people with common ailments to be diagnosed safely at home by using their smartphone camera. The company’s care team issues their diagnoses based on patients’ photos or of their results from mailed-in urinary and kidney infection kits, as well as prenatal progress kits. While Telehealth was trending pre-pandemic, COVID-19 accelerated the legitimacy and convenience of the process. 

The Breakthrough Brands in the food and beverage space saw growth opportunities as well. Omsom’s Asian meal flavor packs and Athletic Brewing’s zero proof beer used the pandemic’s focus on home cooking and personal fitness to drive awareness and investment.

Omsom’s founders wanted to provide consumers with bold and vibrant flavors of Asian food, sold in easy to prepare, shelf-stable packs. By partnering with top Asian chefs across the country, Omsom created a window into Asian culture and taste. While their approach is colorful, playful, and fun, the company also used their voice to produce engaging content on Asian identity and stereotypes as well as speaking to questions regarding the origins of the virus.

Fitness and the enjoyment of alcohol rarely go together, but Athletic Brewing Company has created roads to change that. The uncompromising taste of Athletic Brewing’s zero proof beer (its first brew, Run Wild won numerous domestic and international awards) has made it a cult favorite and pushed the company to grow faster than expected. On a brand level, it has cleverly aligned itself with an active lifestyle through imagery and partnerships like Spartan races.

Going forward, brand owners and their investors will be concentrating on growth beyond the pandemic prism. While the shifted landscape has proved a boost for some brands, keeping people engaged (when the focus on home and remote living falls off) will be part of their longer-term challenge. 

We believe the brands on this list have strong momentum and growth potential beyond their niche or early adopter consumer groups. But what will ultimately make them stand the test of time is their ability to continue to change and respond to the cultural shifts that lay in the years ahead.