Wake up call for food brands: how to use COVID-19 to stay ahead

Kim Tas | Client Advisor

July 8, 2020

While many industries are struggling, the food industry has stayed relevant due to its inherent “essentialness”. COVID-19 continues to affect people’s daily lives and their habits, decisions, and purchases are all affected under its impact. People have shifted a great deal of their attention towards what they buy, make, order and eat. It’s been an opportunity for many food companies, but one only a few have taken.

Accelerated innovation

It’s been amazing to see innovative solutions pop up with rapid speed; online grocery services scaled up within days, restaurants quickly adapted to take out and delivery, local farmers and food collectives creating consumer food boxes. Every part of the food industry seems to have been transformed virtually overnight.

An opportunity amidst uncertainty

In times of great uncertainty, people’s routines and purchasing habits seem to go out the window, which opens up the opportunity for businesses who can successfully position themselves, pivot where needed and communicate their beliefs, actions and purpose. It’s an ideal time this time to take a good look at how you’re positioning yourself in the market. How can marketeers and communications professionals help to create positive impact? According to Harvard Business Review: “Feel-good content that alleviates anxiety and promotes positive messaging will go a long way to enhancing the brand. However, companies need to show that their contributions are material and not solely for commercial benefit.” It’s clear that consumers recognize, and reward, authenticity and true purpose.

Convenience & “doing good”

HelloFresh and other meal kit companies have seen record-high shares and above expected sales during the coronavirus. They have increased their social media presence to meet the demand of customers looking for cooking demos and how-to’s. On the other hand, companies like Dole grabbed consumers attention by donating over 2 million pounds of fresh produce to coronavirus aid workers. Coca-Cola began manufacturing and providing essential supplies like PET sheeting and protective surgical shields to frontline responders and healthcare workers. Beyond Meat’s sales have more than doubled due to the demand for healthier meat alternatives. Chipotle has increased its delivery capabilities and has been helping its customers combat self-quarantine isolation by hosting live Zoom lunches. Many adult beverage companies, from Diageo to AB InBev, have repurposed their alcohol-manufacturing capabilities to make hand sanitizer. People appreciate these actions and will remember them when it comes time to make their purchases, now and post-corona. But brands needs to be truly serious about it and not use corona actions for solely short term benefits. It needs to become part of their purpose mission. Be-do-act is the purpose credo and flow.

What will the future hold?

According to Food Dive, “Half of food and beverage leaders said manufacturers will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic stronger, according to a survey conducted by food innovation lab Mattson. Respondents said consumers rediscovering cooking at home, coupled with the streamlining of supply chains necessary to get products out at this time, create a net positive for the industry.” This new normal we are now living in has given us an opportunity to look more closely at the brands and the ingredients we purchase and to discover the short supply chain. All in all, it is now apparent that the climate for investing in communications for F&A customers is now better than ever. Companies must understand and adapt to the quickly changing environment we’re living in. Consumers will reward companies and producers that truly address and support people and the planet. They are looking for good value, clean labels and innovative brands that live their purpose. The companies that meet this demand will not only survive the pandemic, but end up ahead.