Marc PaulenichMarc Paulenich

According to a 2021 survey conducted by digital restaurant platforms BentoBox and the Infatuation, 84 percent of consumers order delivery/takeout an average of two times per week. Digimind, a social monitoring and intelligence company, found the industry’s e-commerce revenue totaled $18.7 billion during 2020 alone, and that number is expected to increase to $25.7 billion by 2025.

Understandably, the food and beverage industry, like many industries, is quickly turning to digital solutions to reach consumers with online ordering, customer service, marketing strategies and more. With stay-at-home living expected to continue in the future, and online narratives evolving around societal care, health and well-being spurred by the pandemic, it’s imperative that, as PR and marketing pros in the food and beverage industry, we adapt our strategy to stay relevant and meet the needs of our target customers.

Unfortunately, many of us are operating on a tight budget. In fact, Gartner’s Annual CMO Spend Survey found that in 2021, marketing budgets fell to their lowest level in recent history, accounting for only 6.4 percent of company revenue. So, how can we take advantage of the booming opportunities in the food and beverage industry right now in a cost-effective way?

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '22 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

The simplest answer is usually the most overlooked: Go back to the basics. Use budget-friendly marketing solutions—including social media and digital tools—to identify trends, better evaluate your brand, your competitors and your audience as well as find your voice, set your strategy and measure.

Step 1: Identify the trends

From an increase in digital ordering to a demand for more sustainable options, the food and beverage industry has shifted considerably in the last few years. Identifying these trends are a key first step in better marketing your brand.

Online food ordering: Consumers turned to online food ordering and delivery options in 2020-2021 like never before, and even as our world begins to open back up, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. The global online food-delivery service market is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 10.3 percent, as consumers continue to demand instant access to meals and groceries.

Demand for healthy, sustainable and accessible: In the wake of the pandemic, health took center stage. The International Food Information Council found that 25 percent of consumers say knowing where their food comes from is very important to them, and more than 55 percent of 15-44-year-olds say they “Extensively research the products and services they use and consume.”

Eating local: COVID-19 also spurred a huge movement for supporting local businesses, a trend that’s expected to continue. Communities rallied together to keep their local establishments alive in the midst of shutdowns. According to Digimind, “buy local” was the seventh-top trending conversation across digital platforms in 2021. And Forbes reported that 35 percent of consumers are buying more local foods than before the pandemic.

Combatting cooking fatigue: A combination of in-person dining restrictions, a search for a new at-home hobby and an interest in healthier eating turned many consumers to cook for themselves during the pandemic. Brands got creative and began offering simple recipes and easy-to-prepare meal kits online, with six in 10 restaurant operators saying they will continue to offer online take-and-bake options post-pandemic.

Step 2: Evaluate your brand, competitors and audience

Once you have a better understanding of industry trends, it’s time to conduct an audit by taking a good look at three components: your organization, your competitors and your audience.

First, begin with a self-audit. Closely evaluate your current marketing and messaging practices. What messages and tactics seem to be resonating and which aren’t? Do they still fully encompass and amplify all that your brand has to offer? Do they reflect where you want your brand to be in five years, or are they simply reflective of where you are today? Also, take a close look at emerging trends in the industry, such as those mentioned in step one. Are you amplifying aspects of your brand that align with those trends, like sustainability or online ordering?

Once you’ve taken some time to self-reflect, select a handful of competitors. Of these, three or four should be organizations comparable to your own (e.g. by geographical region, offering, etc.), as well as one or two aspirational organizations. Identify their strengths and weaknesses, and compare them to your own. What’s your organization doing better than others? And what are they doing that you might not be taking advantage of?

Finally, dive into your audience. Use social media as a real-time listening tool to learn more about your audience. Consider conducting an online survey and a small focus group to ensure you’re collecting both qualitative and quantitative research. Make sure you’re understanding not only how people feel about your brand, but also what they expect from the industry as a whole.

Step 3: Find your voice

Now that you have a better understanding of your organization, competitors and audience, it’s time to consolidate and apply all of those learnings to either create or refresh your brand voice.

Start by establishing your brand’s values and your mission statement. According to a 2021 survey by Ipsos, the link between consumer values and brand purpose has grown significantly over the last eight years, with 70 percent of consumers claiming they are more likely to buy from brands they believe reflect their own principles. It’s incredibly important your mission statement reflects how you want your organization to be seen by current and prospective employees and customers. What do you want to stand for? How does this align with the values of your audience?

Once your values and mission are solidified, develop three or four supportive messaging pillars to guide all communications moving forward. Use these messages to create and establish an authentic tone of voice that truly reveals your brand’s personality.

Step 4: Build a strategy

With the groundwork done, it’s time to put a plan in motion to build your brand community and achieve business results.

Start by identifying the channels and outlets that best reach your target audience. Make sure to include a healthy mix of traditional media relations, social media, influencer marketing and paid activations as well. While less traditional methods like influencer or paid tactics may seem daunting, they’re incredibly scalable, and a smaller targeted approach, such as micro-influencers, will likely result in a big impact.

Then, outline content themes that will resonate with your audience and support your brand values and mission. These themes should be set in a consistent cadence, which will guide how often you push messaging across all of your platforms.

Finally, don’t neglect goal-setting as a part of your strategy. Set your benchmarks and then outline a handful of measurable goals and key performance indicators, like engagement on social media, media coverage or even conversion rates for online sales.

Step 5: Measure, evaluate and improve

With your strategy in motion, you want to consistently evaluate what’s working well and what could be improved. Using the benchmarks you set in the strategy phase, take advantage of cost-effective measurement tools such as Google Analytics and Sprout Social to measure which of your messages, tactics and channels are working well, and which could be improved.

As you gather results and move forward, be flexible and pivot when something isn’t working. Continue to use social media as a real-time listening tool to learn more about your audience, and continue to keep a close pulse on industry trends and best practices.

On a yearly—or even quarterly—basis, take your measurement up a notch by circling back up to step two and conducting a mini self or competitor audit to make sure you’re tracking in the right direction.

While keeping up with current industry trends may seem costly and time-consuming, rest assured, you don’t need a massive budget to create an effective PR strategy. By taking a close look at the trends, your organization, your competitors and your audience, and then creating an actionable, measurable plan, you’ll be able to leverage the major opportunities the food and beverage industry has to offer.


Marc Paulenich is President of Hart.