Lindsey Carnett
Lindsey Carnett

COVID has changed everything we considered to be normal. We’ve spent more time at home than ever, following official guidance to stay inside to protect ourselves and others from the virus.

National lockdowns have changed the way we work, rest and play, and have put a halt on eating out. Spending on takeout has risen and many of us have become reacquainted with our kitchens.

Research from Statista reports that food and beverage e-commerce exceeded $15 billion in 2020 and is expected to surpass $20 billion by 2023. The pandemic has and will continue to drive this trend, with Coresight Research stating that online sales increased by 40 percent alone in 2020.

As we’ve spent more time indoors, we have come to rely on our digital devices to communicate with colleagues, friends and family. Social media has become a tool for new discoveries and a way to recreate the fun of eating out. Food blogs and social media accounts have taken on a new meaning.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '21 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

The Recipe Critic is a popular blog, with over 4.3 million Facebook fans alone and a clean, categorized website with recipes that every cook could want. YouTube has also become a vital venue for recreating fast food favorites. Joshua Weissman’s channel provides the inspiration and techniques for everything from Chick-Fil-A to In-N-Out Burgers. Pro Home Cooks is another example of recipes that can take an amateur chef’s cooking to another level.

Platforms like Instagram have been utilized by bloggers to host “cook along” classes. Bloggers like Liz Adams have used Instagram Live to create a “Cooking with Liz” series. Joined by her husband, the popular mid-Western blogger shares recipes, humor and teams up with brands as part of the weekly segment.

Another popular blogger, Carly, teams up with food brands including Cape Cod Chips, spotlighting them across social media and positioning them as “comfort food” that has helped her through the pandemic.

While many of us will have turned to familiar favorite foods throughout lockdown, keeping fit and healthy have been important. Communicating the health benefits of ingredients is one way in which brands have looked to market their products.

Food boxes have been one such method and companies have capitalized on seasonal trends to help consumers stay healthy at home. The usual “new year, new you” theme is just one example, with brands like Plated, Green Fresh and Snap Kitchen using their direct to doorstep service as one way to target individuals that want to use their time during the pandemic to improve their diet and wellbeing.

In terms of marketing, the brands offer a discounted first box, free shipping and encourage customers to share snaps of their meals on social media as a way of targeting new customers. This simple technique works.

While we may not be able to visit our favorite restaurants or have a drink at our local bar, companies and small businesses have realized the potential of selling their consumer-packaged goods direct in a grocery store.

Consumers tired of takeout can still experience their favorite meals from home. Examples include Honest Burger, with meal kits offering an authentic burger experience, and the Asian chain Wasabi, whose take-out options are now available as ready meals in many grocery stores. And while some independent chains can’t compete with the buying power of big names, they can get on board with the rapid transition and reliance of selling their items via ecommerce and social media.

To adapt and survive, brands have taken in some cases to using social media exclusively to sell their food and beverage items. The Cheesecake Girl is one example. Located in Center Street Market in Hilliard, Ohio, it markets individual cheesecakes, cakes and gifts boxes direct to 18,700 Instagram followers. Tiny Kitchen Treats embraced a similar model, with their artisan cookies available exclusively to buy online and shippable worldwide.

And restaurants, including many in the Los Angeles area, have switched to offering their products in kit form for consumers to enjoy at home. Milo & Olive is just one of these establishments, as well as Holbox offering dough and taco boxes respectively.

Brands should look to work with influencers in this way to generate and secure editorial press coverage—stories of triumphing over the odds and switching business models command column inches.

While we’ll eventually see a return to the dining experience as we remember it, the benefits of a brand owning the relationship with their customer will not be lost. The direct-to-consumer marketing model brings with it a higher profit margin. Whilst costs have risen in areas such as online marketing and packaging for take-out options, many expensive overheads have simply disappeared. These costs can be used to expand options in other areas but also offer services that customers expect. One of these is on-demand shipping or fast delivery options if offering products locally. The upside of this model is that the brand can accurately measure the lifetime value of their customer, knowing the true cost to acquire them and the cost it will take to keep them and gain brand loyalty.

The key to sustaining this model of 21st century dining and food is the smart use of social media, influencer marketing and other communications methods. With such a competitive marketplace, brands need to stand out—and fast—against their rivals.

Brands should think outside the box and identify other home-based trends, whether it be improvements to the home—programs like The Home Edit have seen a massive interest in reorganizing kitchens—they should seek opportunities with influencers in these fields to spotlight their food and beverage items. Health and wellness bloggers and social media stars still command great popularity amongst their followers, and whilst short-term revenue opportunities are difficult, avenues like Instagram and live Q&As are a great way to test out meal kits and recipes.

Email may seem like the more traditional of these methods, but it remains an effective way to collect data about customers, provide meal inspiration and directly market products. Smart targeting that ensures emails land in inboxes at key shopping or dinner times is a good way to get customers on board.

And if investment allows, creating an app is a targeted way to encourage and reward brand loyalty.

While the pandemic has thrown the traditional dining experience into turmoil, it has created many silver linings and opportunities for brands big and small. From working with influencers to investing in subscription-based services, brands can bounce back and embrace different ways of working to help create a long-term, sustainable business model.


Lindsey Carnett is CEO and President of Marketing Maven.