Seeds of Opportunity

The Impact of Coronavirus on the UK’s Food & Drink Brands

The last couple of months have impacted the food and drink sector in ways we could never have imagined. UK producers have had to take stock and adapt their businesses to a rapidly-changing landscape.

The way people think about, consume and shop for food and drink has dramatically changed. Add into the mix: venue closures, lockdown, disrupted supply chains and staff layoffs – it’s a challenge just to get product into the hands of your customer.

Some brands have become more relevant, and others less so – almost overnight; and in some cases customers’ needs have changed.

Make Sure Your Brand Is Still Relevant

For all food and drink producers, now is certainly a time to reappraise, rethink and perhaps even reinvent for the new normal.

Brands should consider their relevancy in a changed (and post Covid) world. Maybe some changes will be short-lived for the duration of the pandemic, but others will stick. Brands must be prepared to pivot where needed – rebranding if necessary, repositioning sales and marketing messages, re-calibrating distribution channels and perhaps refreshing packaging to better service changed consumer needs.

For some producers this step-change has brought about product innovation or strategic partnerships where synergised companies can better offer their products to a collective customer base by joining forces. There are some great examples of regional food and drink producers doing this, who have created larder-style websites to offer deliveries of fresh, local produce.

Changed Consumers’ Mindset May Affect Perception of Brands

Enforced lifestyle changes mean shoppers attitudes, priorities, concerns and budgets may be different to several months ago. This could affect how they think and feel about the food and drink and brands that inhabit their world.

People are spending much more time at home, with or without family and spending less time commuting and at work. They want to feel safe and are dealing with mental health issues such as loneliness, anxiety and isolation. Health, well-being and fitness have become more important to them. As has feeling connected to friends and family and staying entertained.

So what does this all mean for food and drink brands? Here are a few key questions to consider:

· Are our usual customers still there, and do they need our products at this time?

· Could our product offering change, or be expanded to better suit consumers’ current and/or future needs?

· Is our brand and packaging appealing and relevant to consumers at this time?

· Do we need to change and/or introduce new distribution channels in order to reach our customers?

· How do we retain our customers during this time of crisis, and find new ones?

· How can we help our consumers and support our communities at this time?

Changes to Consumers’ Lifestyle

During this period of lockdown, what we eat and drink is something we still have control over. We look forward to it. It brings comfort and punctuates the flow of our day.

We have more time on our hands for thinking about, and making food. This is reflected in an uplift in people baking, being inventive with leftovers and cooking from-scratch, rather than relying on quick, ready meals. Food and drink can be an outlet for experiencing joy, or reward during this difficult time. Or, something we can gift to others to let them know they’re in our thoughts.

The pubs, cafés and restaurants maybe shut for a while longer yet, but people are still enjoying a drink at home. It’s become something to look forward to at the end of the day, signify the arrival of the weekend or to celebrate lockdown birthday’s and other family occasions.

Changed Shopping Habits

Insights reveal people have reverted back to doing ‘one big shop a week’, and are more heavily reliant on online shopping from a wide range of grocery websites. This is topped up by purchases from small local shops and direct from farms and producers (deliveries, click and collect and in person).

This altered shopping behaviour has big implications for food and drink brands. Reduced dwell time means packaging must grab shoppers’ attention quickly. Consumers are favouring perceived ‘safe’ packaging, but remain environmentally aware. And a strong representation of product is needed in an increasingly busy online marketplace.

Shoppers are focussed on buying essential items and stocking up their cupboards with non-perishable goods. They are more likely to stick to a list of things they need, rather than spending time browsing.

Physical shopping has become a functional and at times a stressful experience, reducing dwell time in shops. This means product packaging needs to work much harder to appeal as well as communicate to shoppers.

Pandemic-Proof Brand & Packaging

There’s a new nervousness around food safety that brands should consider. Loose produce like picked bakery items or fruit and veg, are now less attractive with consumers opting for perceived ‘safer’ wrapped goods.

Packaging design needs to strike a balance of: environmentally friendly, reassuringly safe, yet functional and attractive with category stand-out.

Online & Postal Friendly Packaging

With a growing uptake of online shopping, it’s a great time for food and drink brands to expand their ecommerce offering, or introduce online trading as a distribution channel.

However, a shift away from a wholesaler model to ecommerce and direct to customers sales may require a rethink of packaging to ensure product is protected, stays fresh and is suitable for postal or online delivery services. When shopping online of course, customers more often do not see physical product, so brands also need to consider how they can engage and best convey the attributes of a product in a simple 170px square 2D pack shot.

Build an Online Tribe

People are spending significantly more time online during lockdown creating greater opportunity for brands to engage with consumers through social media and digital advertising. Savvy brands are taking advantage of this to build their online communities. With PR and trade events on hold, marketing spend can be diverted into comparatively lower cost social and digital advertising, sponsored posts and influencer engagement. Fun, feel good and aspirational content are providing much needed escapism for consumers stranded in a no-man’s-land of home-work-furlough-childcare.

Brand Loyalty During a Time of Crisis

During times of change people’s attitudes towards brands can shift, perhaps presenting an opportunity for food and drink producers to win new customers. This is because buying habits are disrupted. In Richard Shotton’s book ‘The Choice Factory’ he explains that nearly half our behaviours (45%) from eating to socialising are habitual i.e. we make the same decisions and choices, time after time – without fully conscious thought. This is an ongoing problem for brands trying to attract the attention of new customers. He goes onto to explain that if a consumer’s environment changes their habits become loosened, and research showed, those who had undergone a life event were more than three times more likely to switch brands.

“..when consumers undergo a life event, their environment is changed enough to destabilise habitual behaviour. ” Richard Shotton – the Choice Factory

At a time when we’re saturated with pandemic related news; brands can cut through the noise with positive stories, and altruistic diversification to be relevant and supportive. Actions speak louder than words, and can be a way of consolidating relationships with current customers and reaching out to new ones by expressing kindness. There are lots of great examples of this happening such as: breweries and distilleries manufacturing hand sanitisers for keyworkers, buy a hero a pint schemes and NHS donations from product sales.

These brands will be remembered (whether consciously, or not) for stepping up during a time of crisis.

Peoples’ receptiveness to food and drink brands may have altered according to how relevant products are to their current needs and situation; but one thing is certain, shoppers still have a requirement for food and drink. Although they may now have a heightened interest in: healthy, convenient, practical or indulgent products.

Brands need to be sensitive and speak authentically, with marketing efforts and packaging design communicating how products will improve, support and enrich a customer’s life at this time.

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