Consumers in the food and drink industry – what’s changed?

Watch this short video as I summarise the key insights for the food and drink industry and a 3-stage communications framework to structure comms now, and beyond COVID-19.

Video transcript

Hi, this is Chloe, the Client Strategy Director at Born + Raised. I want to spend a few minutes sharing some of the ways we’ve been helping our clients respond to the COVID-19 crisis, particularly around discovering new consumer insights and applying them to a more agile communications strategy. As we’re expecting an update from the government this week on our exit plan for lockdown, we need to be prepared to shift communications once again as we start the transition to a new normal.

Focussing on the food and drink industry first, we’ve been tracking consumers for the last six weeks. Here’s a summary of some of the key insights, most of which you’ll already know. Hopefully there’ll be something new in there for you too.

Purchasing habits have changed dramatically. Major brands have suffered from the decline of impulse purchasing and consumers are facing ongoing challenges from retailers. We’ve seen what has been dubbed “the commerce explosion” as consumers switch to shopping online, many of which have been purchasing products as a result of promotions and discounts. While stockpiling is decreasing in the UK, Tesco reported this week that the average number of products in a consumers basket is doubling as we return to a weekly shopping pattern.

Eating habits have certainly changed as we are cooking at home more often. Snacks are reigning supreme as consumers look for a pick me up at home, but concerns over healthy eating and snacking are rising.

As we reacquaint ourselves with age old neighbourly norms, the value we place on shopping locally and helping people in need is increasing.

Health and wellbeing is inevitably of great concern to consumers at the moment. While certain areas such as exercise are beginning to decline, healthy eating and mental health remain hot topics of conversation.

Cooking, baking and happy hour drinks all make the top 5 stay at home activities, while technology starts to make more of an impact. Notably, there has been an interesting shift in the way consumers listen to podcasts – while before COVID-19 it was out and about, the most popular time now is during cooking.

So looking to the future, what does the consumer look like beyond COVID-19? In all honesty we don’t know yet. We do however know that the expectation is that consumers will continue to value their all-round health, to cook from scratch with family and to use technology to enhance their experiences. We are still tracking the expected behaviours of consumers and are interested in seeing how this changes over time.

So what can you do with this insight and what is the best way to structure your comms?

The table in front of you – us strategists love a table – shows a three phased approach. I’ve seen a couple of variations on this, but our approach is to focus on what we call “Respond”, “Relieve” and “Rebuild”. These phases allow us to structure communications based on consumer behaviours and their mindset, helping us hit the right message, tone and format of communication.

The “respond” phase is to show care and concern for your consumers who are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety. Given the timing and being deep into our lockdown period, the majority of comms will fall into phases two and three. But don’t forget it is still important to be prepared to respond to changing situations sensitively. For example, there are a lot of parents that are becoming increasingly anxious at home or concerns over whether we will experience a second phase of the virus – so don’t skip this phase as you may find yourself on the back foot. Clearly communicating your thoughts and intentions to support consumers is important, but it is more so important to follow through and demonstrate anything you commit to to maintain and build trust with consumers.

Phase two, “relieve”, is very much the way we should be communicating right now. The role of the brand is to provide relief for consumer challenges, to motivate and inspire the consumer to get through this challenging period. Now is the time to be positive and engage in a way that helps consumers feel supported and therefore more optimistic about the future. Despite the lockdown exit plan, it is highly likely that we will continue with restrictions to movement in place. There will certainly be a transition phase into what our post COVID-19 lives look like so we expect the “relieve” phase to continue for some time yet.

Finally, the last phase is “rebuild”. Currently, global expectation from consumers is that it may take up to a year for things to go back to normal. One thing we are certain of is that it will be a new normal, not a return to pre Covid-19 lives. Preparing for a “rebuild” phase requires consideration and careful tracking of consumer behaviour and emotion – ultimately, when the time is right we want to depend the narrative we’ve established with our customers. You’ll notice under the desired consumer emotion for the “rebuild” phase that we want to help customers realise that good things can come from a crisis. I’ve read the phrase ‘health is wealth’, meaning that the value of health goes beyond healthy eating into mental and physical health too. This is certainly an opportunity for the food and drink industry to adapt communications strategies to support consumers in making any positive changes during phase two a permanent fixture in their lives.

To conclude this video, I would go as far as to suggest that this should be a circular process for clients. If we do enter a second phase of COVID-19, or who knows if another global challenge comes our way, we will need to return to phase one to respond to such situations.