Posts tagged "food culture"

Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success

February 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emotional relevance, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success”

One brand’s story of transformational growth.

Awhile back we represented Sargento Foods, today the leading brand in dairy case cheese. When we started, Sargento was looking for a new chapter in its legacy as a packaged cheese-specialist, family-owned company. However, the Sargento business was challenged with rampant category commoditization – cheese is cheese is cheese. The segment share leader was store brand, providing ample evidence that consumers primarily bought on price.

  • Our goal was to transform the business by reinventing the dairy case cheese category. In doing so, devise a competitive advantage for Sargento that would change the landscape against historic branded segment leader, Kraft Foods.

Working in collaboration with Brad Flatoff, Sargento Chief Marketing Officer, insight research was commissioned to dig into consumer segmentation and behaviors in cheese use. The effort unearthed an evolving consumer relationship with food. A new and important audience was emerging, roughly 26% of the category overall, who were heavy cheese users and had a budding love affair with food.

  • This food-savvy audience formed the foundation of the Food TV Network’s expanding fan base.
  • They love being in the kitchen, or on the culinary receiving end, appreciated higher quality cooking and ingredients.
  • They could tell you about the functional differences of knives and pans they used in the kitchen.
  • They bought cookbooks for inspiration and subscribed to culinary magazines.
  • They were, as characterized in the study, Food Adventurers.

As is often the case in high volume, high velocity businesses, Sargento had cast themselves for years as the choice for everyone and anyone. This thinking ironically contributed to a form of water-treading stasis that held the brand locked in a third-place share position.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. Executive leadership agreed to let the marketing team redefine the target user, narrowing in on Food Adventurers and working backwards from that profile. We built a plan that redefined the category, the product composition, the packaging, pricing strategy and communications.

In short, Sargento elected to become the premium brand in the dairy aisle and play to food quality cues the Food Adventurer would recognize and embrace. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Sargento wisely decided to pursue an audience that was invested in food experience and paid attention to the ingredients they used.

A new product line was created called Artisan Blends that combined artisan style cheeses with Sargento classic flavors. The step-up line was priced at a premium to other products and the packaging got a make-over to accentuate the tone and visuals of a European more premium esthetic. But most importantly, the messaging was changed, and the communications tactics moved to align with Food Adventurer ambitions in the kitchen.

  • Our strategy put the brand in league with a specific set of consumers as they participated in culinary discovery and pursued elevated taste experiences. Sargento became a sponsor and participant at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, among other events. Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello was retained as a spokesperson and cooking videos were created with him.

Bottom line: the gears were put in motion to carve a new future based on relevance and resonance specific to a food fan consumer.  Becoming important to a segment of the marketplace rather than defaulting to the all-things-to-all-people approach. Since then the retail channel business has transformed and the future, with help from the company’s enormously successful Balanced Breaks snack product line, is on a different trajectory.

Bold moves make for big results

To a large degree the success of this shift was in the hands of Lou Gentine and his son Louie, now CEO. Their willingness to swing for the fence and re-position the business led to the outcomes that have paid lasting dividends.

The lessons here come directly from the consumer and insight into their food needs and interests. Asking, how can we be of greater value to them and make a difference in their lives? When we brought the insight research to life, all aspects of the marketing mix were refocused on how we could build relevance and value with this audience and help them on their culinary journey.

Brand strategy guru Bernadette Jiwa summarized the approach in a recent post:

“Like most of us with something to say, serve or sell, they [marketers] have to do a better job of speaking to only their right customers. They don’t depend on the footfall of mass awareness—they thrive on the loyalty of minority affinity, built one customer at a time, over time. They understand what their customers want, they make promises, then show up consistently, week in week out, without fail to keep them.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. The tactics we use must align with our goals and the goals of the people we want to serve. How are you creating affinity with the minority of people who enable you to do your best work?”

The Sargento case study is a great example of the benefits of narrowcasting and marketing bravery.

  • When you decide to go all in with an audience that cares, and then cater to their wants, needs and aspirations, the results can be very satisfying – even transformative to the business.

This would not have happened without the insight research investment up front that, with trained eyes, unearthed the Food Adventurer target and their culinary aspirations. Armed with this understanding, the marketing plan became a lesson in ‘mattering’ to an audience of food fans. The impact on message and media was a powerful testament to why smaller engaged audience segments can have a significant impact on the balance sheet.

Can we bring this kind of fresh perspective to your business? Let’s talk.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Integrated Communications 0 comments on “Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat”

Guidance on how to hit the food brand home run

Poised to create and capture the next wave in center-of-plate meal preferences, Beyond Meat is scaling at break-neck speed in both grocery and foodservice channels, throwing off sparks of insight to all emerging food brands who will listen about the new path to relevance and glory.

At Chicago’s recent Good Food Financing conference produced by the venerable Jim Slama of Family Farmed and Good Food Accelerator, keynote speaker Seth Goldman held the audience of embryonic food brand founders and equity investment executives in rapt attention while delivering a data driven highlights reel of business home run after home run. The score sheet demonstrated in dramatic fashion how Beyond Meat’s team is leading the nascent meatless meat invasion, while disrupting conventions and traditions of the legacy animal-based proteins industry.

Within Goldman’s engaging recap of refrigerated beef patty without the beef, was a significant revelation to all of the strategic leaps Beyond Meat achieved. “Animals are really four-legged bio-processors of plant materials, converting the ingredients to meat,” he said. Thus, meat in truth actually comes from plants, and Beyond has amazingly reverse engineered the components of meat structure to imitate and recreate the same bite and flavor characteristics of the animal variety.

Said Goldman: “Our goal is to enable consumers to eat what they love.” Right there was respect for what consumers want, and a vault from making vegetarian meat for vegetarians to making plant-based meat for meat lovers. The foundations of this strategic narrative are critical and inform how the entire Beyond story unfolded. Within his story is a living example of what separates ‘just another one’ from a meaningful innovation that influences consumer behavior and informs the future of food.

It worked because this plant-based juggernaut fully delivered on its promise to replicate the animal meat taste and texture eating experience. “Traditional veggie burgers look to us like a plot by the meat industry to make sure plant-based versions aren’t a threat because, let’s face it, they don’t taste very good – and I’m a vegetarian,” Goldman reports.

Meanwhile the plant-based category table is set for dinner:

Trend lines seem clear that plant-based anything is on the way up, as consumers “flex” their preferences and look for what they believe are healthier alternatives that are friendlier to the environment but which also deliver fully on taste experiences consumers crave.

According to IPSOS, 54 percent of consumers say they’re trying to consume fewer animal-based foods and eat more plant-based options. What’s going on here? Shifting values mixed with health and wellness is what’s going on. SPIN Scan data reveals that refrigerated plant-based meat is up 37 percent year on year to $212 million in sales.

No surprise, it is outpacing animal meat sales. Within the $270 billion US meat category, plant-based share is under 1 percent. The upside is significant and bodes well for Beyond as first mover and brand perception leader in the space.

Mintel’s 2018 “Better for you Eating Trends” study provides evidence of why it’s best to strike when the macro trends are working in your favor. In their national survey, Mintel found across all four primary age segments, consumers said they agree with the following statements:

  • Plant-based protein is healthy – yes for 74 to 80%
  • Plant-based foods are better for the environment – yes for 47 to 63%
  • Plant-based functional claims are trustworthy – yes for 35 to 56%
  • Plant based foods are better for you than animal options – yes for 42 to 50%

Dollar sales for plant-based meat in the aggregate, frozen or fresh, is $801 million and rising rapidly.

By the way, this form of market-opportunity-assessment matters for the business plan!

Emergent Guidance on the Path to Victory

Surveying the adjacent exhibit hall of new, emerging food and beverage brands, Beyond stood as the “A” lister in a field of hopefuls who bare their heart and soul daily in product concepts that authentically align with higher quality, more artisanal and healthier food solutions now fueling the renaissance in Good Food. The acid test, however, is can they redefine the categories they’re playing in or will they plateau among a collection of similar offerings with similar stories and similar preparations.

The secrets to outsized success continue to follow six repeating themes:

  1. Think Differently Going In

It would have been logical and expected for Beyond – founded by Ethan Brown, a vegetarian – to exist in service of that ethos and segment, working to create a better product for this devoted marketplace. But the mental leap to create a product for meat lovers caused the entire R&D development process to rally around a specific standard of performance and outcome with a moonshot at a VERY big market. Vegetarians are roughly 5% of the population and have remained anchored at that level for some time.

The goal to build an analog to meat inspired the revolution unfolding before us.

  1. Disrupt the Space You’re Entering

Beyond Meat defied the conventions and expectations of its veg foundation, opting to swing for the meat department case fence. Beyond could have easily been a frozen product in the vegetarian section freezer case. Instead they pushed and cajoled retailers to merchandize their products alongside animal meat, and in doing so, not only accentuate the perception that this was a legit option to a beef product, but also meet the meat shoppers where they shop.

Entrepreneurs would be well advised to look for extreme disruption, major departures, unconventional solutions, big moves on the perception chess board that constitute uniqueness.

Legacy food brands often suffer from a recurring illness we refer to as line extension-itis. Read as, adjustments, incremental improvements to an existing idea that don’t ultimately reframe the category.

Relatively minor improvements to ingredient strategies, recipes, preparation techniques or story may not be enough to inspire the kind of attention and magic that leads to new category creation, the zenith of best-in-class marketing opportunity.

  1. Focus on Taste Satisfaction

Formulation can be a fickle friend. While hitting benchmarks on nutritional label improvements and better-for-you metrics, taste sometimes gets marginalized. I will never forget my first bite of a Beyond Burger at the Chicago Restaurant Show, in a backwater booth buried in the better for you zone, where curiosity got me up to the table. And then – Holy Cow – I swore it was a ‘burger burger,’ not a veggie burger. Relentless search of optimal marriage between culinary and taste considerations with healthier is paramount. Taste wins every time.

  1. Place the Right Bets

Most people believe that plant-based anything is healthier, but Beyond wisely did not elect to make nutritionals a predominant part of their go-to-market game plan. For the simple reason, that pound for pound a Beyond Burger isn’t necessarily a traditional nutrition label winner. Yes there’s no cholesterol, but…

Instead Beyond wisely pursued a values-based messaging platform weighed against the environmental tax exacted by raising animals who compete for natural resources. Beyond Meat tells us their product creation process (compared to animals) consumes or produces:

79% less water

93% less land

90% fewer greenhouse gases

46% less energy

  1. Tell Your Story, everywhere your customer or stakeholder can be found

If Seth isn’t a walking, talking personification of this point, I don’t know what is. Goldman the Ambassador of Beyond is everywhere, bringing the remarkable news of the company’s outsized performance to any and all who will listen.

These business and media audiences are chocked full of content creators and reporting types like me who turn around and do what I’m doing here.

We extol emerging brand companies — be careful not to  short sheet the brand building process early on. Yes, cash is at a premium and yes, resources are limited, but the “if we build it they will come” mentality is a recipe for small ball. All marketing is strategic storytelling. You have to invest here and sooner rather than later.

It takes experienced hands to shape and inform the consumer-ready brand story efficiently and with great impact – thus, why Emergent exists. We’re good at this, but then again, we’ve been doing it to great effect across multiple categories and honed our communications techniques and strategies.

  1. Relentlessly Innovate

Goldman will tell you the Beyond Burger today is different, and better, than the Beyond product was when they first got traction. He claims the company has 70 scientists at their Manhattan Project campus in California, working around the clock to improve their taste, recipe and nutritionals – and to innovate new products like the recent Dunkin ‘Beyond Sausage Sandwich’ for the hand-held breakfast crowd. Don’t rest on your laurels, don’t stop working to make it better and to search for the next meaningful adjacency where the product concept can go to solve yet another problem or capture another market opportunity.

Be careful, however, to avoid extending your brand in areas too far afield of your core equity where the proposition dilutes rather than builds on what consumers believe is your expertise.

While the barriers to entry have fallen away for emerging food and beverage ideas, and yes everyone knows it won’t be easy, there are key ingredients in here that spell the difference from modest growth to something that looks like Beyond Meat.

Our Offer…

So we make this offer: let us come in and conduct an audit, no cost, of your current platform, product concept, supply chain, and business opportunities. We’ll provide an assessment and make some recommendations and if you agree, perhaps we can partner on a future path to business transformation.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let me know.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food

September 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Healthy lifestyle, shopper behavior 0 comments on “The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food”

Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you can’t go back…

For most of my adult life I have experienced a love/not love relationship with fresh tomato. The routine, ubiquitous beefsteak variety a frequent guest star that decorates the roof of a hamburger with some color. The pink flesh offers a hard, mealy somewhat bland flavor. In a salad the standard tomato as hero can be even more pronounced in its meh-ness. We hear it travels well through distribution channels and offers some shelf life. Yay.

Along comes the heirloom tomato with its erratic colors, crags, lumps and fissures to completely upend everything you think you understand about a tomato, punching your taste buds with luxurious flavor, acidity and tenderness that elevates anything it swims with. More expensive to be sure and worth every penny. Once you know this you can’t retreat to the beefsteak.

  • So it is with the continued culinary-ization of America: as higher quality food experiences forever elevate the palate and expectation of nearly everyone who eats, the baseline standard of what people want is changing with it.

Thus why strategic planning needs to address this development because as the old but very real saying goes, “times are changing and if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.”

What happens when the consumer is at the center of strategic planning?

If it is vital for the collective futures of food retail and food CPG companies to put the consumer at the epicenter of planning and work backwards from there, then we’re going to pay attention to cultural and behavioral shifts. The goal to sync strategies and capitalize on those insights. It is definitely not business as usual these days because the pace of change has accelerated so significantly in the last five years.

Seven observations on the changes now upon us.

The quality bar keeps rising. The impact of chefs-as-media-heroes, cooking shows, elevated corner bar food, transformation of legacy food categories with reimagined higher quality versions, and the advancement of culinary experiences at restaurants – all blend together in a perfect recipe for moving taste and quality expectations upward.

  1. Once you’ve experienced the added value of a pan reduction sauce to transform a flavor- challenged piece of chicken, you want the sauce every time.
  2. Home delivered meal kits operate as boxed culinary academies, teaching consumers about roasting techniques for vegetables, layering flavors and saucing.
  3. Higher quality ingredients and preparations now reflect the new intersection of indulgent taste and healthier. Healthy now redefined not as calorie math but the use of better quality fresh, real food ingredients, less processed and with a clean label as evidence of same.
  4. Weekends are now calendared opportunities for scratch home-cooking exploration, experiments and food adventure. Which grocery stores observe this phenomenon and move to inspire ideas, ingredient solutions, menus and culinary guidance? …More meatloaf?
  5. Maybe we’re still selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity and so there’s no time to match merchandising to the elevation of food experiences in America? Can you afford not to when disintermediating options are emerging all over the food business landscape?
  6. Restaurants are trial generators for new global flavors, cuisine exploration and realization of unique cooking techniques. Outsourced meals aren’t just about convenience on a busy night, it’s also part of the food culture milieu that’s stoking the fire of culinary excitement.
  7. Where’s the Chef de Cuisine now? He or she is a home chef operating in the kitchen looking to create, innovate and experiment with standard menus and dishes now getting an elevated makeover with layered flavors, sauces and artisanal quality ingredients.

The headline: could it be that the American home kitchen is not that far behind the restaurant kitchen, save a few thousand BTUs from the stove burner, as a place to produce distinctive flavor experiences? The answer to this query is yes. How are retailers and CPG innovators working to recognize and service this consumer? Small niche you say!? Not so fast…

In a recent report from the Hartman Group we find evidence in Compass data:

  • 39% of restaurant sourced eating occasions are efforts to lean in on the culinary skill and experience going on in the professional kitchen. Remember the quality of restaurant food keeps going up, and while doing so challenges some chain foodservice operators who are trapped in cost structures and business models that make it difficult to profitably move up.
  • 29% of at home eating occasions use cooking sauces, flavor aids, Deli prepared items, alongside higher quality produce, meat and seafood intended to replicate the restaurant experience at home.

Food culture changes are an undeniable juggernaut impacting where the ball is moving and challenging everyone to determine if they’re keeping pace with it or languishing behind.

Emergent’s guidance:

  1. Consumers want the unique, higher quality flavor experiences they find at restaurants, repurposed for them in food retail available products. Hence the emerging brand phenomena now roiling legacy CPG market shares. Consumers yearn for the surprise and delight of more innovative packaged and prepared foods.
  2. On the other side, food retail is ideally situated to sponsor artisanal exploration in cheese, baked goods, alternate proteins and cooking ingredients. Yet many find it difficult to get beyond the traditional infrastructure to position themselves in the culinary chair alongside shoppers who want more relevance and food experience in their shopping trip…and their shopping cart.

While so much preoccupation now exists with installing e-commerce platforms and digitizing the management and flow of inventory, we should not lose sight of what the consumer longs for and how we can enhance food relevance and adventure for them.

Your products and store could be a culinary Field of Dreams!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth

June 24th, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Food and wine, food experiences, Food Trend 0 comments on “Mainlining Umami Deliciousness to Secretly Drive Growth”

Yes, the Secret Sauce IS the Sauce

To our friends in the food and restaurant business: want to know how to get people to, in effect, eat out of your hands morning, noon and night? Turns out delicious and umami are littermates and keys to the culinary kingdom of eating satisfaction, smiles and happiness. These attributes sit knocking at the front door of repeat purchase and visits.

Yes, the path to great taste is regularly paved with umami, the fifth taste sense (friend to sour, sweet, salty, bitter) discovered and minted in Japan around 1908 by chemist Kikunae Ikeda. His work determined glutamic acid lies at the foundation of great taste experiences. Ikeda then set about commercializing this epiphany by designing it in crystalline form as a flavor enhancer ̶ commonly known as MSG.

The so-called Glutamate was a shot across the bow in refining and defining what it is that humans experience and love about deeper, crave-able flavor. This discovery helps explain why there are more burger and pizza chains than any other form of foodservice business. A cheeseburger with tomato and ketchup is an umami flavor bomb. Thus, perhaps, explaining its lasting popularity across both geography and generations. Ditto pizza.

How Umami found me

It was in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – the Pacific Northwest’s city of Seattle, where my journey begins as a junior home chef on a mission to apprentice the culinary arts. I discovered a cookbook titled The Sixty Minute Gourmet, published by the food editor team at the New York Times. It famously promised to impart basic French technique to the Yankee reader in short order.

I made every dish in the book. Perhaps the chief skill gleaned in the process was saucing and caramelizing. And thus I witnessed how reduction sauces, for instance, could be created to take a plain hamburger patty to an absurdly elevated and refined taste experience. It quickly became clear that any protein or vegetable could climb the deliciousness ladder if a compatible savory sauce pooled above or below.

The sheer act of reducing stocks – vegetable, beef, fish or veal – with butter, wine and in some cases (a little bit of) cream was literally a set-up for injecting umami flavor formally described as concentrated savory, brothy and meaty-ness. Relatively neutral tasting chicken could become a culinary tour de force with a proper sauce.

On commoner ground

Umami isn’t just a highbrow culinary concept. The ubiquitous bottle of ketchup also sits high on the umami ladder, and also probably explains why $8.6 billion of the common red condiment is sold every year in America, a per capita spend of $17.85 per person per year, according to Statista. No surprise Heinz owns about $1.4 billion of that lucre. What’s at work here, in addition to the brothy meaty-ness, is flavor intensity, mouth feel and a redolent savory-ness. When savory is combined with a creamy-like carrier that takes up residence on the tongue, magic happens.

  • The intense salty, nutty richness of correctly aged Parmesan cheese provides another umami-bite example; hence why cheese is, in many ways, king of the umami empire. Translating this understanding into business opportunity can be summed in an innovation cornucopia of opportunity.

Condiments, sauces, toppings and marinades can be employed as umami revitalizers, providing transformative power to reinvent otherwise bland and less interesting foods and menu items. Flavor enhancers impart what the senses want in appetizing taste experiences. It can alter the perception of value in the consumer’s passion for food adventures. Such as:

  1. Bone broth instead of stocks due to its inherent richness, mouth-feel and flavor depth.
  2. Soy, Teriyaki, sesame oil and other Asian sauces that drive the experience of a noodle way past its hereditary plain and maybe boring self.
  3. Sauces and proteins are a marriage made in heaven and allow not only for amping the delicious quotient but also bringing global flavors for an adventurous twist.

In short – bowls, pasta dishes, proteins, salads, vegetables and sandwiches can all be elevated by cranking up the umami index.

Quick innovations

Sauces and toppings can be a faster path to reinvention and reengineering packaged foods and dishes. Think of umami as flavor paint that accompanies anything it sits on or near, to bring the glutamic acid punch that sends ordinary to extraordinary.

The novel use of fresh real-food ingredients to form the basis of umami richness adds to the alchemy of creating flavor without resorting to the chemistry set. In the end, it is deliciousness that wins. Umami is the envelope that enrobes common foods in something special. The outcome is business growth because of the surprise and delight it imparts.

I know because here at the Wheatley house, Hamburger Soopreez as we call it is one of the most popular dishes on the family menu due to its umami bath. Thanks for getting us on the road Ikeda-san.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

June 2nd, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Healthy Living, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge”

Wallet wields power and Z-ers are ‘voting’ with it

Alert: in two short years Gen Z will be 40 percent of all U.S. consumers. They arrive in economic primetime with a distinctive and unique point of view: economic power is a tool for social change and improvement.

Dissatisfied with politics and politicians whom they feel can’t be trusted to operate decisively for the greater good, Gen Z-ers see their purchases as influential and an expression of what they want the world around them to believe about their priorities and values.

For brands this means young people expect companies to use their influence and platforms for the greater good, to imbue their brands with greater meaning, and to create pathways for participation in something that’s meaningful.

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

  • 76 percent of Gen Z-ers have purchased a brand specifically to support issues the brand stands for (this of course assumes the brand indeed stands for something beyond its product expertise, business results, and to the benefit of people and society).
  • 67 percent have stopped purchasing a brand or would do so, if the company does not operate in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • 40 percent have used purchase power intentionally to boycott bad company behaviors and policies, or to influence improvements and change.

A more values-driven generation, Z-ers believe what you buy and where you shop or eat is a cultural, and at times political, statement. So it’s no surprise the study discovered 49 percent believe it is vital for a company to have social change initiatives in their mission and planning.

Consumerism and the channel for change

Z-ers see mainstream politics as often out of touch with social and environmental issues they deem important, such as gun control and climate change; and politicians as operating in a cycle of self-interest at the expense of others’ well-being as with DACA, healthcare, justice reform, and some aspects of the current political environment on immigration.

Importantly, this can be attributed to control. Z-ers may feel public policy operates beyond their sphere of influence, but economic power tied to social change issues, is seen as entirely within their realm of accessibility to participate in something that matters.

What’s important to note here is the focus on social change and improvement; a generation of consumers who place priority on helping the world around them, and who expect brands to participate in a meaningful way in this arena with them as a prerequisite to earning and maintaining their business.

Higher Purpose?

What is your brand and company mission beyond the balance-sheet interests? And by the way, this is not just a call for philanthropy. Check writing in service of a cause is not unimportant, but this goes beyond donations to how the company’s core purpose is configured.

For food businesses this can be about addressing issues like sustainable agriculture, improving the quality and health of food generally for people, fair wages for farm workers and fair trade practices, or taking care of those less fortunate through proactive and tangible acts and programs.

  • Of course, given we live in the era of anything that can be known will be known, it is not possible to do this with window-dressing assertions and marketing that’s disconnected from real behaviors. Z-ers can quickly assess if the brand has a soul or not, or how to sort authentic motivation from business as usual.

For this very reason, Emergent has embedded Higher Purpose assessment and evaluation as a core part of our capability – to help clients determine or refine their path to social good and mission that extends beyond product and promotion.

Z-ers see this as integral to the purchases they make. What you stand for and how you behave as a brand are under the cultural microscope. Now more than ever, pocketbook politics is a thing to be factored into plans and programs. It manifests from a core belief system sitting in service of society, people, their growth and welfare, planet earth, the environment and government policy.

If anything at Emergent we see this as refreshing and an evolutionary improvement that helps advance the role business can play beyond rewarding investors. It’s okay now to espouse beliefs, to enact efforts for social change and to put this out front as a measure of what the company believes and values.

The operable point here is the overwhelming desire people have, in all age cohorts, to be a part of something greater than themselves. This principle simply gains more importance among Z-ers who operate with intention in their purchases and active alignment with brands they care about and see as consistent with their values. In saying this, all purchases become a form of symbolic signal.

What flag are you waving?

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?

March 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, CMO, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Food Trend, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?”

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

Recently we learned that Walmart is planning to introduce prepared foods and meal kits to their stores nationally. This action is in response to an increased interest among Millennial shoppers for more convenient and higher quality, fresh ingredient meal solutions.

Given Walmart’s massive size, the impact of this move could create more challenges for an already stressed restaurant marketplace and help trigger other supermarket companies to upgrade their own meal kit strategies, compounding the impact. Technomic reports business has slowed for the last two years at the nation’s top 500 restaurants. At casual chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s, growth went from an average 4.7 percent in 2015 to flat in 2017.

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

According to Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group, 83 percent of Millennial consumers report more cooking at home and fewer restaurant visits, while 63 percent of Millennials say they want to cook more.

Concurrently the supermarket business is in the midst of transformation as Millennial shoppers flipped the script, causing a move away from traditional center store packaged foods, to shopping the perimeter departments for fresh, real food options. The fresh trend is seen as evidence of their preference for home prepared meals. Thus, also helping explain why legacy “big food” brands have seen their market shares decline in key packaged food categories over the last 10 years.

  • At the core of this behavior is a central theme: virtually all generation cohorts – from Boomers to Gen Z – have connected the dots between higher quality, real food experiences and desire for a healthier lifestyle.

The interest in cooking at home is an outgrowth of efforts to assert greater control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes along with the ability to better manage household food spending. At Emergent we see another explanation: the consumer’s love affair with food and culinary inspiration continues. The desire to exercise that creative calling in the kitchen is strong as it fulfills the number one driver for food purchase and consumption: healthy lifestyle. Consumers tacitly believe that home cooked food is healthier.

Boxed food adventures

Perhaps one of the most important, embedded features of meal kits is the ability to experiment with new cuisines and flavors at low risk and with ingredients already portioned and in some cases prepped.

When dinner is now often decided at 5 pm the day of consumption, kits are an enticing just-in–time option to solve the meal need, without having to shop a 50,000 square foot store for five to seven items. It’s a form of high quality culinary convenience that meal kit companies like Albertson’s Plated brand often deliver with a backstory and ethos sitting underneath.

Millennials passed Boomers in 2016 to become the largest domestic audience of shoppers, numbering some 75.4 million topping the Boomer generation’s previous lead of 74.9 million mouths. This generation has grown up with global cuisine; the rise of specialty food markets, locally-sourced ingredients, unique restaurant concepts, and even chef-driven bar food.

It’s telling to note that fully 24 percent of the entire Millennial cohort shopped Whole Foods last year even though the chain has only 430 stores – a remarkable statement about their interest in higher quality food options.

As e-commerce gobbles up more transactions for pantry stock-ups, the food retail business will depend increasingly on its ability to curate unique food experiences and fresh ingredient solutions – and that plays right into the hands of grab-and-go kits. What’s not to like, as kits deliver:

  • Curated don’t-have-to-think-about-it menus
  • More convenient scratch cooking solutions
  • Wholesome, higher quality ingredients
  • Easier and quicker prep time
  • Experimentation vehicle for new cuisines, new techniques and personal customization

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

The meal kit business is symptomatic of larger changes looming ahead in food retail as e-commerce disintermediates the packaged foods category. As a result, supermarkets will be forced to redefine their models once built around selling those packaged products at volume to fuel the balance sheet.

Emergent believes the future of food retail lies in mining culinary inspiration and food experience. Creating the Disneyland effect of “magic” around food adventure and the consumer’s interests in more innovative and interesting food solutions.

Can the food enthusiastic grocery be far behind? The growth of groceraunt concepts will continue to gain ground as food retailers look to leverage their expanding commissary investments for meals to be consumed on site – yet another customer relationship building opportunity! We anticipate more supermarket jobs for classically-trained chefs as a result.

What’s next for foodservice?

Restaurants are entering a new era of innovation competition to more rapidly evolve menu boards and offerings that reflect the cutting edge shifts in tastes, new ingredients and food culture. Restaurants have always been the tip of the spear in new food trends that then trickle down into other channels in the food industry.

Now more than ever the call to action gains momentum for restaurant companies to explore tastes, preparations and ideas to stay ahead as supermarkets improve their fresh food quality, ingredient standards and Deli menus.

It seems to us that restaurant companies also need to explore further the equity in their own brands to potentially create new signature food products that compete in other channels – much as Dunkin Donuts has done with their superb coffee line and Panera with their soups.

  • Millennials’ enthusiasm for food and healthy lifestyle will continue to push grocers to earn their business by providing the quality, selection, and preparation options they want. Restaurants, while innovating on flavor and cuisine, may need to consider expanded channels as enhanced, food-enthusiastic food retailers vie for share of meal occasions.

This may be the most exciting time ever to be in the food business!

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

 

 

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