The pandemic has fundamentally affected the way we relate to the food we eat and as we experience lockdown it has become a source of comfort and reassurance as well as basic physical sustenance.
In many ways it feels as if we have travelled back in time: ‘back to the 1950s’ is a phrase we keep hearing when we speak to people about how their lives have changed since the pandemic forced us all indoors. Food has played a central part in that.
Families cooped up together are reverting to big family meals eaten at the same time every day. With everyone at home all the time people are buying family-sized packs, cooking for large numbers of people and using up all their leftovers.
Gone are the individual portions, the OOH consumption occasions, the snacking opportunities, eating on the go (apart from those working in essential services), family members eating separately, squeezing in opportunities for eating between activities.
Now it’s time to break for a slice of cake with your mum at 3, or to close the door on the home office and have supper with the family at 6.
People are shopping locally, there is often more stock in a corner shop than a supermarket, a chance to lay hands on that elusive bag of flour or packet of pasta that is unavailable from the big grocery store.
While many people have more time on their hands and children that need to be kept entertained it feels as if eating experimentally has been replaced by eating traditionally. ‘Meat and two veg’ has never seemed so comforting (butchers are enjoying booming sales), and food posts on Instagram are dominated by pictures of jam tarts and Victoria sponges.
Comfort eating extends to comfort drinking. Alcohol is playing a key role, legitimized by the Government’s decision that off-licences are to be classified as essential businesses: shades of the Second World War when beer was off-ration because it was deemed crucial to morale.
And if we are eating traditional 3 meals a day many of us adding a cheeky gin and tonic or glass of wine into that ritualized consumption.
How can brands make the most of this return to the 50s? and should they even try, given that this strange pandemic experience is not going to last forever and (we hope) we’ll be back to normal, or something approaching normal, in the next few months?
We think there is a real opportunity for food brands here, not that we should turn the clock back, but that we should pay close attention to what the pandemic has taught us about our consumption habits: what we eat, when we eat, how we eat.
Our eating behaviour in a time of pandemic reminds us of the importance of ritual and ceremony in eating and drinking. We have time to prepare, time to eat and time to savour, using all our senses. It has become very easy in a world of social media to focus entirely on how food looks: the bright colours of avocado, beetroot, macaroons and to forget that how it gets eaten and what it sounds and smells and tastes like are just as important.
When we talk to people in our research about their relationship with food we continually hear them rhapsodise about the food experience itself, the way the pizza cheese stretches and sticks to your chin, the way the chocolate cracks when you bite into an Easter egg.
We listen as they explain their personal and family rituals: they way they always eat a Kit Kat, the way they like to make a sandwich. These rituals have always existed (and re-emerge at certain times of the year, Christmas is a key example) but in a time of lockdown they have become more important than ever to comfort and to soothe.
We think food and drink brands have the perfect opportunity to explore these rituals in more depth, to understand their brands better to see if there is something else they can tap into when developing a comms strategy
The relationships that people form with brands in times of heightened emotion are stronger and more durable than they would normally be so now is the perfect time to capitalize on that.
Do you understand the rituals and ceremonies your consumer associates with your brand?
Are there feelings of comfort and reassurance that you can tap into?
Are you missing out on an opportunity to reinforce and deepen the emotional connection between you and your target?
If so now is the time to take a deep dive into the total experience your brand offers, from the rich and complex brand emotions it generates to every precise detail of the consumption moment.
We’re sure you’ll uncover some powerful insights to make the most of when we all come out the other side
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