Brands To Watch In 2021

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2020 certainly wasn’t the year we expected — and 2021 will surely include even more surprises. But certain companies, products, people, and business topics will likely vie for attention this coming year. So this Brand To Watch In 2021 list provides an alphabet-correlated compilation of brands to keep an eye on.

A – Amazon. Not surprisingly Amazon kicks off the list of Brands To Watch In 2021. After a banner year of 37% revenue growth, net income/profit up 200% year-over-year in the third quarter, and shares up 74% this year (despite costs of over $12 billion tied to Covid-19), the sky appears to be the limit for Amazon’s performance. Even Walmart+, the membership program Walmart launched to challenge Amazon Prime, doesn’t seem to be slowing Amazon subscriptions which were up 33% in Q3. 2021 won’t be all good news for Amazon, though. Heightened scrutiny from the public and lawmakers, which arose following protests over warehouse worker safety, is likely to continue; warehouse shutdowns and logistics challenges may recur if the pandemic continues to surge; and investigations and accusations of unfair business practices and antitrust breaches by the U.S. and EU governments seem to be only getting started. Plus Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has been the company’s cash cow in recent years, posted slightly slower growth and faces growing competition (see E for the biggest challenge to AWS.)  

B – Black Lives Matter. Lately there have been fewer, smaller public protests against systemic racism than those that broke out last June following several high profile police killings of Black people.  But the BLM movement and the push for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) will remain a hot business topic in 2021. The Business Roundtable, an association of 200+ CEOs from many of America's largest companies, is pushing for reforms such as increased funding for community lenders and Black- and Latino-owned small businesses and producing and preserving 200,000 affordable housing units. Fortune will be doing its part to keep the issue front and center with plans for its 2021 Fortune 500 list to include self-reported diversity and inclusion data. And certain companies will take meaningful action, including Starbucks which plans to increase diversity within its workforce by tying executive pay to inclusion initiatives.

C – Cannabis. While Covid-19 and the coronavirus might have been an obvious choice for the C slot in this list of Brands To Watch In 2021, cannabis is represented here. (See V for the vaccine, which will be the biggest pandemic news next year.) And even though cannabis is not a brand per se, it serves as an umbrella term for all of the companies, products, and brands in the cannabis/cannabidiol (CBD) market which is expected to top $65 billion by 2027 in the U.S. (from $6 million last year.) The growth is in part due to its legalization in five more states during the 2020 election. Keep watch on specific brands such as Green Thumb (50 locations nationwide) and Canadian company Canopy (set to launch Martha Stewart CBD Wellness Gummies for the holidays).

D – Disney. Disney will continue to experience trials and transformation in 2021. Trials will be in park and resorts, since Disneyland and many of its related properties are not expected to open until after Q1 of 2021. (A side headline to watch is how Disney battles with California state officials over the park closure.  CEO Bob Chapek has been one of the few major corporation executives to publicly blast the government over pandemic restrictions since Elon Musk threatened to move Tesla to another state amid a fight over a factory shutdown last spring.) Transformation at Disney will continue, as the company focuses more on Disney+ and its direct-to-consumer business. One casualty may be ESPN, which undergone layoffs and cost-cutting in the wake of the pandemic’s disruption to sports and sports media consumption (see M for more on sports in 2021.)