On the one hand, according to Mintel Food & Drink Associate Director Jenny Zegler, food and beverage brands hoping to capture consumers’ attention will need to offer them something different – a new flavor, aroma, texture, source of inspiration – to break free of the rut that many fell into while at home with limited access to new ingredients and ideas. On the other hand, she notes, everyone’s comfort level is different and so too is their willingness to stray from the tried-and-true.
Likewise, after living under a constant set of ever-changing rules to stay safe during the pandemic, Zegler says many consumers are eager to chart their own course and make their own decisions, but to do so they need information that will both empower and protect them.
While balancing these dichotomies may sound like a tall order, in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Zegler breaks down how food and beverage brands can navigate what modern consumers want and why. This includes not only how to seize the opportunities offered by their desire for more enjoyment, and their need to be the driver’s seat, but also how to manage their evolving ethical expectations, including around environmental sustainability, and the pressure they are placing on brands to help redesigning the world around them to match their more flexible lifestyles.
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Seize the day: Consumers want inspiration, enjoyment & excuses to celebrate
After two years of stress and unimaginable loss, Zegler says the biggest opportunity for food and beverage brands to connect with consumers in 2022 is around enjoyment and offering safe ways for consumers to let loose, have fun and even be frivolous – while still respecting their differing comfort levels and willingness to engage with the outside world.
“After these times of restrictions and mandates and all these different changes and fluctuations, stress and anxiety we have been dealing with for two years, consumers are eager to break out of their confines. They want to explore and play and embrace novel experiences. … And, I really think that is a huge opportunity for food and drink – not only product innovations, but just the way we explain things to consumers,” Zegler said.
As an example, she pointed to pasta manufacturer Barilla’s curated Spotify playlists launched last year, which are designed to be exactly as long as it takes to perfectly cook different types of their pastas.
“I thought that was incredibly smart in terms of taking away at the most basic level …the need to have a timer on … but also thinking about that moment and the fact you turn on this playlist and have everybody in the kitchen having a dance party and enjoying that moment together,” Zegler explained.
In terms of injecting a bit more joy into product development, Zegler recommend food and beverage manufacturers follow the same mantra of offering a twist on the familiar, whether it be through flavor, aroma or texture, so that there is balance of new and reassuring.
“When it comes to, especially flavors, there’s still an element of familiar right now, especially as we’re looking at tracking inflation and price hikes and things like that. For some consumers, it may be a time that they are watching their budgets a bit more closely,” and therefore are more risk adverse to trying something completely unfamiliar and new, Zegler explained.
“In terms of aroma and texture … in 2017 and 2018 we saw a trend around food and drink texture called new sensations, and so that’s something that still is kind of taking off – it hasn’t really grown too much, but again, with some of those crossovers” between brands there is potential to offer something new and familiar at the same time, Zegler said.
As examples, she pointed to the emergence of bubble tea as adding a popping texture to beverages with familiar flavors, and the rise of functional teas as playing up the role of aroma.
Empowering consumers to feel in control
As eager as many consumers are to break free from the pandemic lifestyle, Zegler cautions many also crave a sense of control and the ability to make their own decisions after two years of being told where to go – or not go – and how to behave to protect themselves and their communities. And so, she says, some may not be willing to let go completely – preferring instead to weigh their options and make careful, educated decisions about what is best for them.
“The key words that we’ve honed in on this ‘in control’ trend are really empowerment and protection – and so emphasizing the fact that after these couple of years where you’ve been told what you should do and what you should not do and obviously those things changing all time. Sometimes, it just feels good to be able to say, ‘No, this is what I am going to do for me. This is what is best for my family right now,’” and helping consumers do that by giving them information they need, Zegler said.
Potentially the biggest aspect of this trend is giving consumers information to manage their health, mental and physical, she said.
An example of a brand that is empowering consumers with options and information is Celestial Seasoning, which offers a range of teas for boosting immunity, calming down, energizing and other functions, she noted.
Another example is the flurry of products calling out certain diets that they fit into, such as keto or plant-based, to arm consumers with the tools they need to succeed in reaching their goals.
Sustainability re-emerges as a priority
Closely related to the trend of consumers wanting to be in control, is their desire to do business with companies with which they share the same values – socially and politically. But as Zegler explains, companies and brands don’t have to be perfect – consumers understand that many of the top social and political issues are in flux, and they just want to know where businesses stand and where they ultimately want to be.
Many brands are taking consumers on the journey with them by sharing results of life cycle analysis efforts and updates on their corporate social responsibility goals. This includes highlighting accomplishments, but also discussing sticking points and different strategies for advancing when something isn’t working.
From pop-ups to the Metaverse, consumers embrace flexible spaces
As brands consider how to engage with consumers across different ethical and lifestyle touchpoints, Zegler encourages them to also rethink where they engage with consumers. She explains that by shrinking many consumers’ worlds, the pandemic established a more flexible mindset about the function and meaning of physical spaces, which savvy marketers can use to their advantage.
“Consumers are looking for more function and meaning from both the physical spaces where they are spending their time – like brick and mortar places, their homes, restaurants… stores they might be going to – as well as the digital places that people are increasingly spending their time,” she explained
As examples, she pointed to brands engaging in video game realms and the social network circles that are cropping up around those by either providing their branding digitally or finding ways to deliver their product to consumers while they engage in these spaces.
Flexible spaces also includes grocery stores offering more than food to take home, but also places to hang out and visit with friends or celebrate – a trend that was emerging before the pandemic with grocerants, but which was put on hold in 2020 and 2021.
Across all of these trends and marketing opportunities is a common theme that Zegler encourages brands to remember, which is consumers are looking for support – whether that is in spicing things up, unpacking difficult ethical decisions or navigating evolving comfort levels in public and private spaces. And so, she advises, companies to move forward – and help consumers move forward – with care, patience and empathy.
For more information about how these trends may play out and how brands can take advantage of them, check out Mintel’s 2022 Global Consumers Trends report, which explores in greater depth “what consumers want and why – now, next and in the future.”