The post-COVID food and drink world

It’s always been important for brands to establish a rapport with consumers, but in the post-COVID food and drink world, the challenge has elevated significantly.

Brands will need to shift their engagement strategies as COVID-19 fatigue sets in with consumers.

Importantly, life is not returning to normal, but some aspects of pre-COVID social life are coming back after being forced to become inaccessible for the duration of April and May.

Face masks, working from home, social distancing and businesses operating at partial capacity remain constant reminders of our new world, and consumers are viewing their surroundings with different eyes to those prior to the arrival of the global health crisis.

In addition to impacting on consumer behaviour, this pandemic has affected consumer mindsets and perceptions.

Across Europe, a recent Nielsen-Visual DNA study, which surveyed people across multiple nations affected by COVID-19 before and during lockdown, found that consumers are feeling more empathetic and altruistic than they were pre-lockdown.

To assess consumers’ mindsets, respondents were shown a selection of images depicting various degrees of agreeableness.

The study found that compared with pre-lockdown, consumers’ perceptions are now leaning toward being more open, trusting and approaching the world with open arms.

“Our analysis highlights a notable shift in the perception of how people treat one another pre vs. during lockdown.”

When the respondents were asked, ‘How do you think people treat others?’ as they were shown images of various human behaviours, the results showed an increase in those selecting images relating to empathy and altruism during lockdown, said Samara Meade, Head of Media, Nielsen Marketing Cloud U.K.

While the findings identified a sway toward more agreeable sensibilities across Germany, France and the U.K., the most significant uplift occurred in France (+17%).

“The results correlate with the rise in compassion we’ve witnessed among consumers throughout Europe, including interest in care for the vulnerable, increased interest in charity work and praise for the health care systems” explained Meade.

Brand Clock works almost entirely with start-ups and entrepreneurs and we often learn as much from them as they do from us as they identify innovative opportunities to engage consumers in the post-COVID world. Their entrepreneurial spirit remains as strong as ever.

So what are the key things that we are seeing?

  1. Direct to consumer

Pre-COVID, 30% of all expenditure on food and drink was from the food service sector in some form or another.

During the lockdown, all this expenditure moved into mainstream retail but as the ‘new normal’ has started to establish itself, numerous food service businesses have moved to a direct to consumer model with an increase of some 32% in the number of consumers regularly buying online.

And numerous new brands which have been born during this time have launched online with negotiating and securing listings with retailers remaining protracted.

And in this respect, there has never been a better time to establish a direct to consumer business with consumers looking for brands and products which can bring some of the ‘out of home’ bon viveur’ into their new home-centric work and social lives.

At the same time, online advertising costs have plummeted. Consumers are gravitating towards specialist, premium brands and engaging strongly with lucrative subscription packages.

Loyalty of course is hard to build, and the average life expectancy of a subscriber is typically no more than six months but working hard on one to one relationship nurturing can extend this significantly.

  1. The allure of new brands

As daily monotony and lack of new experiences increasingly becomes part of our everyday lives, the excitement of discovering the new has become significantly elevated.

As mentioned earlier in this article, with the multiple retailers focused on stocking and delivering their highest selling product lines, they are no longer the destination for discovering new and innovative product as there has been a significant rationalisation in the number of products they stock and a hold on the introduction of new brands.

So more than ever before, consumer engagement is key, and online is the perfect environment to tell the full brand story, away from the need to minimise the communication on pack.

And in addition to online, there has been a rise in local solutions with individuals, farm shops, restaurants and pubs all creating new channels to get a whole plethora of products distributed within local communities.

  1. The home office

Amazon announced this week that they are going to continue home working for their employees until the start of 2021.

Barclays have stated that they are looking to reduce their central London office space by 70% and undoubtedly others will follow.

The high street demise that was already underway has accelerated massively as significantly fewer people are undertaking the daily commute to work, the need for work clothing has switched from smart to super casual and with this their social lives have changed too.

And over the last few months home working has become the norm for many and interestingly many businesses have reported that productivity has increased.

No longer are many office workers facing a lengthy, tiring commute at each end of the day, and in some instances this has extended the available time to individuals by as much as five hours per day.

The 5.30 start has been replaced with an 7.00 wake up and in many instances a more leisurely morning routine, even for those with children.

For pre-family singletons and couples working from home, the day starts even later and ends at 5.00 and within a couple of minutes they have moved from their desk to the kitchen with home drinking starting much earlier, in line with previous after work drinking times.

It’s no wonder therefore that short-cut meal ingredients have experienced a significant rise along with baking and scratch cooking. And with many individuals missing their lunch time visit to a sandwich or noodle bar there have been a few unexpected winners with Pot Noodle sales up massively.

The hours no longer spent commuting will become redistributed to activities within the home.

So it’s no surprise that retail sales of alcohol are up and indeed many have increased their alcohol consumption as they come to terms with the mental challenges of the unprecedented times we find ourselves in.

  1. The growth in local

At the start of June, with the easing of lockdown, we saw a surge in hedonistic behaviour as people in their droves descended on pub gardens, beaches and open spaces, buoyed by the coinciding good weather.

But what has happened since? Pubs remain empty, re-opened restaurants are struggling to attract customers and even when bookings are looking positive, the number of no-shows is huge.

Indeed, just last weekend, Tom Kerridge reported 27 no-shows and having opened because of the number of bookings this was a massive upset. He was not alone. This suggests that for many whilst the heart is willing, the mind is not.

It is clear that individuals remain frightened and nervous and we’re a long way off from any kind of return to normality.

And with the working population remaining at home and travelling less, there has been a surge in local shopping of over some 25%. Will this see the start of a long-term change in behaviour leading to the regeneration of market town high streets and decayed urban shopping areas?

5.  Immunity

COVID has changed everything of course.

Whilst there is more emerging data and science on a daily basis, the population at large is trying to understand why certain individuals are asymptomatic and why the severity of the illness varies so significantly in amongst those who are affected.

Boosting one’s immunity has become a high priority for consumers and undoubtedly many brands and products will look to capitalise on this demand.

If you’d like to find out more about how I have been helping clients in the post-COVID food and drink world, take a look at Food Brand Strategist.

And to explore how I can help you launch a new food idea, ping an email so we can schedule a call.

Last Updated on 17/03/2023 by Eddie Stableford

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