Food by its simple definition is what we eat to survive. Over the centuries food has always remained at the core of human livelihood, celebration and social gatherings.

 In more recent times, people from all over the world  were obligated to stay home when the pandemic hit. What movements and values related to food have consumers highlighted or devalued during these unprecedented times? Which ones will linger beyond COVID-19?

1. Food as “defense” in top charts

According to a recent research study by Nielsen Bases, “prior to the pandemic consumer product claim preference was increasingly focused on natural and sustainability”. The same research has identified that as a result of COVID-19, consumers have shifted gears to buy products that naturally contain or claim attributes focused on health protection and overall health promotion.

• Immune system boosting foods: Citrus fruits, vegetables and spices like broccoli, garlic and ginger have been in growing demand. Packaged products claiming dietary supplements like Vitamin C, Vitamin D and probiotics have also been on-the-rise especially focused in categories like drinks and yogurts.

“If it has eyes, don’t eat it”: Already accelerating into the double-digits in pre-pandemic times in the US, plant-based foods have been propelled during the outbreak, especially plant-based meat. The increase is driven by the belief that this pandemic, and prior epidemics, were originated within animals and transferred to humans as a result of their diets.

As we continue to navigate through uncertain times, brands can help bring certainty to the consumers by delivering simple, straight forward claims for a more time-efficient shopping trip. For brands this would position themselves for winning over the basket and encouraging consumer brand loyalty.

2. Aspiring baristas and cooking enthusiasts

With more people staying in during the quarantine, simple routine visits to the coffee store or bakery came a standstill. For this reason, consumers took it to YouTube to search for inspiration or to learn how to cook some classic favorites.  

According to Google Data. global watch time for“ coffee recipes videos rose by 200% since last year. For example, the mouthwatering, 3-ingredient, easy recipe in the screenshot originated and went viral in Korea, then on TikTok and finally ended up trending all over the internet. 

In addition, people globally  searched for bread recipes while on quarantine. Google Data registered a rise of 600% for “breadmaker” searches in March this year in comparison to the same data extracted from last year.

Brands now more than ever should adapt and listen to consumers, provide them with easy, affordable and creative recipes that are relevant at this moment in time. By doing this, brands will not only nurture their relationship with those targeted consumers, but they will also place themselves in meaningful and memorable ways in their lives. 

3. Where does my food come from?

Consumers wanting to know the why and how behind the buy has been intensified by the virus outbreak. Many brands had been focusing their efforts on telling their “behind the scenes” stories via multiple touchpoints in recent years.

With an increase in digital adoption across all generations, brands should take greater advantage of technologies and transport consumers to places in a safe way. Storytelling can be exponentially magnified with technologies literally “at hand”.

4. Accessibility and access-ability

Despite all advances in supply chain, many industries have experienced a strain to theirs more than ever before. The ability for consumers to buy what they want is directed by product availability, thus testing their brand loyalty. Consequently, consumers are faced with either trying new brands or simply changing their meal planning. According to Nielsen, “72% of CPG shoppers are influenced by brands’ activities during the crisis and 48% will consider brand-switching.” For manufacturers and retailers, the implications on brand and product diversity will be a key, actionable conversation with significant consequences for many brands.

In the coming times, brand value proposition and affordability will take a more desirable and starring role. For a large number of people around the world,  predictable schedules and daily routine have changed. What started as a furlough might unfortunately result in a job loss and consequently pushing them back financially. For those who have not lost their jobs, the thought that they might be impacted could be top of their mind, making them  more susceptible to avoid discretionary spending and focus on saving.

With changing times, consumers will be more discerning, price savvy, and will continue to switch between bricks and clicks. The increased digital adoption adoption will make “treasure hunting” and the “love of a bargain” widely accessible. Brands and retailers will be faced with fierce competition for what wins shoppers’ baskets, at what price, how and where.

Marketers will be challenged to do more with less, understand consumer motivations in real-time at a granular level, and to execute with unparalleled agility and creativity. Fast track stage-and-gate models will have to be reinvented into “leap innovation” with sprints of real-time co-creations to meet the changing normal.

The “new normal” outlook

At this particular moment in time,  we are unsure of when this virus will leave or if it will further evolve. Listening and interacting with consumers is more critical than ever, even more important than before.

The power of the brands lies with the consumers and the company’s hands, which  unsurprisingly can bring spectacular outcomes. It’s also a period of communicational change, where different, and direct channels between brands and consumers can and should emerge resulting in less reliance on the established social media networks.

Now more than ever, is a great period to be a true leader and pioneer, instead of a follower. It’s an opening for new needs and demands. The marketplace is permeable to experimentation and purposeful branding takes an even greater spotlight.

We kicked-off a new decade immersed in tremendous challenges in which new rules will have to be re-written. Things that are familiar to us today will only be useful as relative utility.

As the marketplace widens and simultaneously realigns, it will position brands to invest

in being purpose-driven, becoming meaningfully differentiated, inimitable and unique. This will lead the way to be on top of consumer minds – and placed in their hearts.

The catch-22 is: how will the consumer act once the pandemic passes? Until then, the world should not and cannot be halted. But better than to predict the future is to create it.


Note: Collaborative article with Carolina Villarreal, prominent global marketing strategist, food consumer expert, associate of Totem Branding

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