Brightfield Group: Reaching the COVID-concerned consumer with empathetic brand marketing

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / Daisy-Daisy
©GettyImages / Daisy-Daisy

Related tags Brightfield Group COVID-19 food as medicine

Stressed by COVID-19 and its financial and emotional ripple effects, consumers have turned to functional food as a stress-reducing and health-boosting tool to get through the pandemic, recent consumer insights from market research firm Brightfield Group suggest.

In its consumer insights report​,​ which polled 5,000 adult respondents from the general US population, Brightfield found that 65% of Americans agree that functional foods and beverages can substitute for some medicines, a notion that’s been heightened by the pandemic.


The survey which identified ‘COVID Concerned’ consumers as consumers who list COVID-19 as one of their top three stressors, dove into what’s driving this group’s purchasing habits.

According to Brightfield’s research, COVID Concerned consumers are more likely to be women (55% female vs. 45% male) and older generations (33% baby boomers vs. 6% of Gen Z).

“The additional household duties brought on by closed schools and stay-at-home orders has inequitably fallen on women. With more to focus on at home, mothers have been three times more likely to lose their job during the pandemic according to Pew Research,”​ said Brightfield. 

How consumers are managing COVID stress

When it comes to nutrition, the COVID Concerned consumers pay more attention to ingredient claims than the general population. Over half (52%) of this cohort prefer products with “real food ingredients” ​and 40% prefer “no preservatives,”​ according to Brightfield.

Stress-reducing tactics such as getting enough sleep (14%), going for a walk (22%), and maintaining a healthy diet (13%) were the top three most cited strategies COVID concerned consumers took to ease their worry and fears.

“With the virus being more severe for people with preexisting conditions, it follows that these consumers are more likely to desire products that support heart health, digestive health, and are immune boosting,”​ notes Brightfield in its report.

In terms of “immune-boosting” ​ingredients (e.g. vitamin C, vitamin D), however, actual usage among COVID Concerned consumers was in line with usage among the general population (see chart).

One ingredient preference area COVID-concerned consumers do over-index in is low-sugar products, the report noted.

Where COVID Concerned consumers over-index

In terms of product types and categories, COVID Concerned consumers over index in a few better-for-you food categories including plant-based meat, Icelandic yogurt, cauliflower crust frozen pizza, and hard seltzer.



Consumers whose main stressor is COVID are also more likely to care about supporting social causes when they shop and expect larger companies to do their part in relieving the strain of the pandemic. These consumers are also more likely to shop at warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers.

Embrace empathy marketing

Brands who want to establish strong consumer loyalty and trust must continue to listen, understand, and respond the evolving needs of their customer, said Brightfield.

“This is the core of empathy marketing. With this understanding, brands can have a specific, nuanced response that make sense to their customers. This prevents your brand from sounding like everyone else.”

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