Marketing communication professionals understand that as consumer needs and behaviors shift, so too will the need to evolve our approach to providing them with the solutions they seek. However, as we reach for our trusty Inflationary Environment Playbook, one that was happily shelved back in 2009 after our country’s last big recession, it becomes apparent that the world around us has changed dramatically.
The strategies and tactics employed more than a decade ago will need to be further nuanced to allow us to embrace the unique opportunities that 2023 will bring.
An annual Food News study commissioned by us at HUNTER—a leading food and beverage marketing communications consultancy—in partnership with Libran Research & Consulting, polls Americans every year to determine the food news headlines most capturing consumer attention and how this news is changing their attitudes and actions. Results from this study reveal concerns regarding inflation and shortages dominate the list of top stories, representing four of the top five most memorable headlines in 2022:
- Grocery supply-chain shortage.
- Fast food exits Russia.
- Restaurant labor shortages.
- Inflation impacting food prices.
Additionally, the study found that the increasing cost of food was deemed the most important food news topic in 2022, and consumers are bracing for the long haul, believing this will continue to be the most important food news topic in 2023.
The 2022 HUNTER: Food News Study found that 81 percent of Americans polled considered food news more important than ever, and more than half believe that food news stories are relatively more important than other types of news, the highest this has been in over a decade.
This longitudinal study, now conducted for 20 years, indicates that consumers are more likely to change their behaviors based on food news (62 percent), the highest number in almost a decade, with 48 percent changing what foods they buy and 44 percent changing how they shop or get food.
This shift in mindset is also reflected in New Year’s resolutions, as most Americans (75 percent) continue to have food-based goals, but now their aspiration has turned to saving money on groceries versus a decade ago, when weight loss or healthier, cleaner eating was on their minds.
Given these conditions, implications for food marketers include:
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '23 Food & Beverage PR Magazine
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Invest in the fundamentals
Marketing on its most fundamental level builds the connection between consumers and brands. The stronger this relationship, the deeper the loyalty and the lower the price sensitivity. Brands that truly live into this philosophy will remain in American cupboards despite the economic conditions surrounding them. While often in times of economic uncertainty, many brands look to cut investment in communication, it’s actually the worse time to be quiet. This is the time to reinforce your relationship with consumers. It’s also the time when consumers are most actively looking for information and it will be important to connect with them where they’re searching.
Food as a little luxury
This is the first time in our country’s history that an inflationary economy comes on the heels of such an extremely restrictive period brought on by the pandemic. Thus, in many ways, we’re entering uncharted territory, where the traditional desire to cut back spending runs head-long into the pent-up need to overcome restraints. As a result, consumers are more likely to splurge than in prior recessions, and food can play an important role of providing them an affordable luxury. Lean into providing consumers with premium experiences that allow them to indulge within limits.
Two sides to the value equation
As consumers seek greater value, it will be important to remember the value equation: cost divided by benefits, which allows us to deliver enhanced value not only by providing reduced costs but also by strengthening perceived benefits. We’re seeing that convenience, quality and nutrition are still critically important benefits when it comes to food, and ones that continue to warrant greater expenditures. So, when looking to build value perception, the entire benefit bundle matters—elements like clean ingredient lines, quick-prep, free shipping, speedy deliveries, longer shelf life, flexible returns and money-back guarantees go a long way toward driving value perception.
Affordability beyond price reduction
Consumers are looking to reduce food costs and are seeking the best value for their dollar. They are adopting behaviors like shopping more at value-based retailers, switching to lower-cost and store-brand products and cooking at home. Tried and true merchandising and promotional tactics will continue to be impactful in this environment but recognize there are other ways at demonstrating cost-related value including alternative payment plans, promoting multifunctionality of products and tips for reducing food waste. Additionally, loyalty programs and partnerships can not only heighten value perception but can also build equity—and combining these tactics can be a power pact.
This is also true across the pond. In 2022, the HUNTER Food News Study not only celebrated its 20th anniversary in the U.S. but also, for the first time examines food news and culture in the United Kingdom, the home of HUNTER: London. Study results in the UK exhibited very similar findings to the U.S., with rising food prices considered the most important food news topic of the day and inflation and shortage news stories dominating as the most memorable headlines.
Visit the 2022 HUNTER Food News Study Website for the Full US Study and UK Study Results.
Heddy DeMaria is Chief Insights and Strategy Officer at HUNTER.
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