Laura Gurski is senior managing director and global lead for Consumer Goods & Services at Accenture.
As the ground keeps moving underfoot, successful food manufacturers will be those who capture the value of the rapidly evolving digital technologies and focus efforts on building a company with the capabilities to deliver relevance to a customer base of millions of individuals at scale.
Getting that right will be the secret to future success and growth. But where should you start as you plan for the year ahead? Here are three trends to watch:
1) Moving beyond just products
Food brands today are rethinking how they and their customers interact across the ever-expanding number of consumer touchpoints. Moving away from a traditional product and transactional focus, they’re reinventing the whole food experience by emphasizing user-centric content and the communities that are built around successful brands.
Chobani does this well. The yogurt company created highly relevant web content and almost single-handedly made baking with yogurt a ‘thing’ by promoting recipes across its distribution channels. This creates a shared sense of brand community where customers were invited to be active participants by sharing feedback and ideas and yogurt recipes of their own.
It’s a reflection of the fact that when they feel real affinity for a brand’s purpose, today’s consumers want to help out. They know the best way to get what they want from a brand is to get directly involved – at every stage along the value chain from product design onwards.
Rewarding consumers for their loyalty requires food brands to think beyond just monetary benefits. Tapping into this desire for active participation, food brands can benefit from a more engaged customer base, bringing with them fresh insights and ideas that can fuel future innovation and product development.
2) Conscious consumption
A cultural shift has made sustainability mainstream and personal. It’s at the top of the consumer agenda and is a trend that will only continue to grow over the next 12 months. Food shoppers want to reduce their environmental impact, and they’re thinking much more critically about how their products are used and packaged. They are making carefully considered choices to buy from companies that stand for something bigger than what they sell and are more likely to identify with those reflecting their values and beliefs.
Manufacturers are responding. Consider how packaging is being transformed by new technologies. Whether it’s creating composable milk bottles using a naturally occurring biopolymer, or developing innovative metal containers that can be reused up to 200 times, solutions are emerging that can help brands develop more sustainable and more natural products.
And when smart sensors in packaging are combined with autonomous vehicles and robots, even more possibilities open up. Brands can not only get new insights into customer behavior, they can also deliver replenishments and pick up used packaging directly.
3) Nostalgic noshing
Food is more than fuel. We all want to eat healthily and live well. But let’s not forget the pleasure that food can bring. Indulgence is not dead – it will just be done differently. Well-informed health-conscious consumers know its ok to let your hair down and treat yourself every once in a while.
Nostalgia is a key part of this. Food is irrevocably attached to memory. Within our wellness-obsessed culture, many consumers still buy the foods they ate as children because the connection to pleasure and happiness was made and never broken. They’ll even give these nostalgic products to their own children, despite recognizing it’s an indulgence.
Smart brands can use this nostalgia effectively, especially in uncertain times when consumers are often looking back to the past for comfort. Consider how Hershey is tapping into customers’ fond memories of childhood campfires. Its s’mores kit brings all the ingredients together – chocolate, marshmallows, crackers – for an indulgent nostalgia trip.
Nostalgia doesn't need to be an entirely organic phenomenon. Done well, companies can guide it and build it into the core brand purpose. Nutella, which is owned by The Ferrero Group, uses its social channels effectively, appealing to grown-ups as well as children, and taking a nostalgic, but localized, approach to marketing. By doing so, the family-run company managed to turn a small regional brand into a global phenomenon.
It’s important to recognize that our nostalgic relationship with food differs all around the world. Food brands have known for years that tastes vary hugely by geography – famous recipes that evoke happy memories in one culture can’t simply be transplanted to another. Just look at McDonald’s, whose international success over so many years has been supported by its highly adaptive approach to menus, ingredients and business plans in different geographies, such as using different cuts of meat in its chicken burgers to suit local preferences.