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The Unfolding Evolution of Consumer Packaged Goods: Challenger Brands vs Market Leaders

Delve into the evolution of industry titans and the rise of disruptive innovators in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry.

In the past decade, a surge of pioneering Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands such as Oatly, Liquid Death, Wild Orchard Tea, and Olipop have reshaped industry norms, ushering in a new wave of marketing strategies and strategic maneuvers. Amidst the emergence of these new players, the enduring presence of market leaders—like Mondelez, PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, Tyson Foods, and Coca-Cola—serves as a testament to their decades-long industry dominance.

We’ve been lucky enough to have conversations with the leaders from these brands on our Dig In podcast and get an inside look in these brands strategies. Through these discussions, we’ve created comprehensive analysis into how established market leaders and challenger brands are approaching different areas of the industry.

1. Approaches to Research and Marketing

In the past decade, the CPG industry has witnessed a surge in advancements in both research and marketing methodologies. Emerging CPG brands are breaking away from traditional norms, redefining marketing and research strategies to meet evolving consumer demands.

When it comes to new approaches, Oatly, a plant-based beverage company, stands out for their fearless marketing approach, transcending conventional promotional strategies. Their marketing isn't just about advertising but resonates with authenticity, urging action and echoing the brand's essence. They've successfully enticed audiences by showcasing impactful approaches, like the switch from dairy to plant-based, which reflects their commitment to their mission-driven narrative.

I believe in a brand that's human, that treats people with intelligence, and rewards all sort of curiosity that people will give to it. If you want to persuade people to change behavior, it's better to use laughter, not lecture.

Kevin Lynch

Creative Director, Oatly

We can see this ‘outsider’ tactic used by Liquid Death, the canned water company, as well, who have made waves with their innovative marketing tactics. Their approach cleverly transforms the perception of drinking water into an actual experience by leveraging unique packaging and widespread brand exposure across diverse events. This unconventional strategy disrupts the market, showcasing how you can completely redefine a category and product, with the right packaging, messaging, and mission.

cans over mountain

On the other hand, leaders in the industry have spent decades refining their marketing and research strategies, leveraging insights and known consumer behavior to drive iterative growth.

For Mondelez, the insights team recently shifted their approach to focus on understanding consumer behavior in a Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework. Their renewed approach involves delving deep into understanding their consumers JBTD, honing in on critical junctures in consumer behavior. Notably, their exploration into Toblerone's market revealed an interesting trend: the product is often purchased as a gift.

If we're really gonna realize more breakthrough growth, we have to take a step back. Rather than being constrained in a box, let's work out what consumer or shopper problem we're solving for, and let's frame our growth strategy and our innovation strategy around that.

Nick Graham

Senior Vice President, Global Head of Insights & Analytics, Mondelēz International

With PepsiCo, another giant market leader, their strategy involves crafting inspirational narratives that align seamlessly with consumer needs, ensuring products resonate and prompt an instinctive 'yes.' Rather than making a recommendation, the aim is to pre-emptively align their products with consumer needs, ensuring that by the time individuals encounter their offerings in a store, the decision to purchase is already sealed.

How do you present what matters in a way that people just instinctively go, yes, I get it.

Doug Healy

Senior Director of Consumer Insights, Gatorade - PepsiCo

While the newer brands operate in distinct categories within the CPG industry, they are all focused on disrupting the traditional marketing and research categories. Although each approach is different, they all have the same goal - to take what they know from marketing and use that to create a completely different approach. Which has paid off. On the other hand, within the leaders, a shared trend emerges—a departure from conventional approaches toward deeper consumer engagement, empathetic understanding, and narrative-driven strategies to forge stronger connections with consumers.

2. Risk Assessments

These challenger brands exhibit a departure from traditional methods, embracing innovation and risk-taking as fundamental elements of their journey.

Wild Orchard, a challenger brand in the beverage space, is on a mission to revolutionize the tea industry, steering away from the conventional landscape dominated by commodity tea brands. Their determination to introduce regenerative tea through the ROC Regenerative Organic Certification for the Camellia Sinensis plant reflects a pioneering spirit aimed at influencing and inspiring the broader industry. Typically, tea brands rely on multiple farms for cultivation and harvest, none of which are Regenerative Organic Certified. Wild Orchard's farm certification required substantial changes in tea harvesting practices, demanding both time and financial investment—something traditional brands have been reluctant to pursue. By elevating their brand and embracing the challenge of establishing a regenerative tea brand, they've not only expanded the boundaries of the category but also revolutionized the tea market.

We are the first brand to get ROC Regenerative Organic Certification, and the only brand right now for the with ROC for the Camellia Sinensis plant. We want to pioneer this movement. We want to influence and motivate and inspire other tea brands who have a mission to make a greater impact on people and the planet.

Michael D. Ham

Co-Found & President, Wild Orchard Tea

If you’ve never heard of Olipop, ask your Gen-Zs. Their team has adopted a distinctive omnichannel strategy, diverging from typical brand trajectories. Instead of following a retail-to-D2C path or vice versa, they focused on both by bolstering their online presence while concurrently expanding their retail footprint.

Traditionally, brands opt for either a D2C or retail launch, then gradually expand into the other domain once they've gained traction. Olipop, however, took a leap-of-faith by prioritizing both D2C and retail shortly after their launch, despite the considerable investment and time required to excel in both areas. This dual-focused approach has elevated brand awareness and allowed them to curate the customer experience across both digital and physical touch points.

For the more established CPG market leaders, having space in your marketing and products to take risks isn’t often an option. Established brands need to maintain, or grow, their market share and it can be difficult to take chances on ideas that might put your brand in jeopardy. However, that doesn’t mean they never take risks.

For example, Kraft Heinz recently adopted a new stance on their approach to insights and research, deviating from conventional brand health tracking approach. Stepping away from traditional benchmarks and methodologies is no easy feat, it takes time, research, and trial and error to figure out which (if any) alternative approaches will be most effective. By taking this internal risk, they’ve embraced flexibility and innovation while valuing benchmarks without becoming overly constrained by them to gain meaningful insights.

Similarly, Coca-Cola navigates between expansive and reductive thinking models acknowledging the necessity of each within their organizational strategies. Expansive thinking is crucial to surpass the obvious, seeking opportunities in uncharted territories or identifying 'white space' in the market. Conversely, reductive thinking grounds the company in practicality, focusing on what can be effectively executed within a consumer-focused organization. While expansive thinking encourages exploration, there's an inherent need to anchor ideas within a feasible framework, ensuring they can be actionable and launched successfully. Through adopting new thinking models, Coca-Cola is able to alternate between expansive creativity and the practicality necessary for innovation.

Stepping away from decades of strategies and methodology takes time. These pioneering industry brands showcase an evolution in their approaches, all emphasizing growth, innovation, and a shift in mindset and methodology. In contrast, established giants have undergone profound shifts in their research and marketing approaches to maintain their market leadership.

3. Finding a Niche

Finding a niche is one of the best ways brands can drive growth. While the market leaders have had decades to hone their craft in the industry, these challenger brands are just on the rise. They’ve found unique whitespace opportunities within the CPG industry that are relevant to our world today, to drive their success.

Oatly has pioneered sustainable plant-based products, centering its strategies around audience engagement and a culture that values curiosity. Their marketing actively promotes participation and aims to create a positive impact on the world, aligning with consumers' aspirations for a more sustainable future.

A lot of our work tends to be engaging in the same way as our marketing, by asking for action. Whether our campaigns are asking you to sign a petition to stop the European Union from overly restrictive label language for plant based brands, or we're asking people to demand the climate impact of your products on the side of of the package to allow people to make a more informed decision.

Kevin Lynch

Creative Director, Oatly

Another challenger brand, Olipop, introduced a groundbreaking concept by addressing digestive health within the soda category, reshaping the market and significantly contributing to its growth, despite accounting for only a fraction of total dollar sales.

Each brand has identified the niche opportunities (which may be more out-of-the-box than traditional opportunities) within their specific category. They have all defied conventional norms, aiming to shift the industry positively and create distinctive market spaces through their innovative products.

Meanwhile, industry Market Leaders are redefining their approaches, seeking not just a niche for their products but also in the way they approach their strategies and methodologies.

For Mondelez, they’ve found their niche honing in on specific consumer moments, tailoring their approach by personalizing products to align with various purchasing occasions, particularly emphasizing gifting scenarios. Notably, Toblerone has secured the top position as the number one chocolate bar in travel retail, showcasing the success of this strategy in capturing specific consumer moments and preferences.

A huge amount of the work we're doing now is in personalization, personalization of packaging, personalization of experience, different formats. That came from expanding our frame to say, let's think about ourselves as a gifting brand. What are all of the opportunities for growth that would come from that?

Nick Graham

Senior Vice President, Global Head of Insights & Analytics, Mondelēz International

Similarly, Tyson Foods understands the power of finding their niche and consistency in marketing. For them, storytelling is their way of creating impactful communication, recognizing the diversity in their audience’s needs and preferences and tailoring their narratives accordingly. Rather than drowning in data, they convey their expertise through concise yet compelling storytelling. By narrating stories that reflect the insights drawn from data, they instill trust and authority, emphasizing that it's not about showcasing the data itself, but about crafting narratives that convey the insights gleaned from it.

While many of these brands strive to carve a niche within their respective product categories, it's equally vital to identify a specialized niche within their strategies and methodologies. This niche becomes the playground for experimenting with marketing and research approaches that are crucial in propelling the brand forward. All of these brands share a commonality, being driven by consumer-centric strategies and a relentless pursuit of positive impact and market differentiation.


The CPG stands as a living testament to the ceaseless evolution and innovation that shapes our markets. From the disruptive footprints of the budding challengers to the enduring strides of market dominators, the past decade has been an exciting chapter witnessing an intricate dance of change, growth, and adaptation.

As these brands continue to redefine consumer engagement, innovate in products and strategies, and forge deeper connections, their stories underscore a broader narrative—the relentless pursuit of consumer-centric excellence and market differentiation.

If you want to learn more from industry leaders, check out our podcast, Dig In. We interview some of the most inspiring brand professionals in marketing, innovation, and insights to discover the story behind the story of their most exciting innovation.