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Our current thoughts and insight
I often wonder (as I’m sure many do) what lasting effects of the lockdown will be on consumers’ behaviour.
One of the key behavioural changes that Levercliff and others have reported on is how consumers eating and drinking behaviours have changed – some forced, others chosen.
I think it’s only possible to really understand how these behaviours will evolve over the medium and long term by discovering and monitoring underlying consumer feelings, needs, attitudes, and circumstances. For every observed behaviour there are a multitude of different drivers.
For example, if we take one behavioural change – cooking from scratch more – the potential drivers for this increase are numerous.
-Time - I have more time to do so
-Enjoyment – I’ve learnt/relearnt a new hobby that I enjoy
-Nurturing - I want to protect and nurture my family
-Mindful - As a creative activity it helps with feelings of anxiety
-Health - I/we are trying to eat more healthily
-Thrift - It’s cheaper to cook from scratch
-Shopping anxiety – I’m shopping less often so planning my meals
-Appreciation - I like to show off my culinary skills to friends & family (e.g. on social media)
As many people like me return to a more ‘normal’ pace of life, the daily commute, children returning to school, they may have less time to cook but the other feelings, needs and attitudes will not necessarily go away. How can categories evolve to fulfil these needs?
Some convenience food categories, such as ready meals have suffered as a result of the renaissance in scratch cooking. A change might mean a greater focus in ready meals on home style recipes (home fridge/store cupboard ingredients) or family targeted options. Or a renewed attempt to make the recipe kit format work in retail…perhaps less structured or lower priced.
For ingredients categories I can see a renewed focus on quick, easy and affordable, reminiscent of Jamie Oliver’s and Sainsbury’s Feed a Family for a Fiver campaign in the last recession.
I think there’s an opportunity for brands to remain relevant and gain deeper connections with their customers by being sensitive to needs and sentiments as they evolve.
A good example of a company quick to diversify to fulfil a need was a company local to me, Robert’s Bakery, launching a direct to door bread baking kit early in lockdown.
Again, to go back to the last recession, brands that did well tapped into prevailing needs at the time…an affordable treat (lipstick effect), an affordable weekend treat (the big night in).
However, with a new set of circumstances it may be different this time. Keeping close to what your customers are thinking and feeling is as important as ever.
We love people watching here at Levercliff and from time to time something prompts me to remember that I too am a consumer, same as all those whose behaviours we observe! I’ve been looking at our latest Covid Tracking Survey and can see behaviours emerging that I too am embracing, or at least trying to! These relate to health and the Joe Wicks effect. A comment by one of our panellists brought this home to me when I read their reply to ‘why they were eating more protein’, it was ‘because of the body coach diet’ aka Wicks. I too have taken up ordering protein powder to put in some of his recipes and have been working out each morning guided by JW in my quest to exercise more and eat healthier. I wonder if JW can help the nation understand what the dietitians of this world have been telling us all along, that getting healthier is not about fad diets, it’s about adopting a more holistic approach to a healthier lifestyle.
The sports and nutrition category has had a challenging few months, since their core existing market have not been able to go to the gym. However, these new ‘holistic health’ entrants could provide opportunity.
Retailers should perhaps be thinking wider than just ambient sports nutrition. Could they make it easier for the consumer to embrace a healthier lifestyle? Perhaps by signposting and flagging up products which are high in protein e.g. nuts and meat. Sainsbury’s have created a point of difference in their coffee aisle- educating the consumer on different coffee types and where they come from- perhaps this on shelf educational approach could be transferred into fresh proteins? A space dedicated to protein education, signposting the nutrition content of different meats?
Companies need to help consumers adopt a holistic approach to health. This could be through specific advertising about their product and how it contributes to a healthier way of living for example. There is much that companies can learn from Joe Wicks and I suspect the company that snaps him up to launch a range of balanced meals will do very well. He is already in partnership with Gousto, a recipe box service, which prides itself on making it easy for families to enjoy healthy home cooked dinners- this business venture suggests he would be onboard with a retail product.
At Levercliff, we always put the consumer at the heart of our thinking. Understanding their needs and how they are changing helps us develop strategies for our clients. Our latest Covid-19 Consumer tracking survey is a great tool to understand consumer attitudes and behaviours.
Using our survey results, our insight team have developed four new consumer profiles to help you understand how consumers are being impacted by Covid19. The crisis is impacting different consumers in different ways. While some people aren’t noticing huge changes, others are worrying. That’s a trend we expect to continue, and we will be keeping a close eye of progress in the next survey. Click to download the highlights report and meet the Lockdown Households.
While overall retail food spend is up, Covid19 is having huge impacts on how consumers are shopping. At a top line level, sales of alcohol, proteins and fresh foods are up, with convenience foods like sandwiches, prepared salads and ready meals down. With consumers being forced to live differently, the need for foods has changed. Some of these habits will stick, and our survey helps you understand if those habit changes could affect your business. Click to download the highlights report.
What does this all mean? What should you be doing? Now is the time to pivot your business. Be agile. Look at where your market is going and adjust your proposition to suit. The initial period of lockdown saw a period of instant reaction, meeting demand or hibernating. Now we’re seeing real innovation. Some companies are just reopening and reinventing their businesses, whereas others are making more subtle changes. There is no one rule fits all. Finding the most appropriate insights for your business is key.
As always, we're here to help. Cutting through the noise to pick out the key things that you can do to futureproof your business.
Veganism and plant-based diets have been all the rage over the last year and it seems to me that the low and no alcohol movement is similar to veganism – small markets in comparison to their traditional equivalents but the people that are a part of the movement feel very strongly about it. While the low/no alcohol sector might not yet be mainstream, it’s currently a very ‘community orientated’ culture - Sober Girl Society has 89.5k followers on Instagram and Club Soda has 15k followers - and these groups are active in sharing teetotal recommendations on great drinks, brands and bars.
Consumers are likely to have a new view towards health following Covid-19 (consuming fewer calories, taking better care of our internal systems) and ‘healthier’ alcoholic drinks such as hard seltzers are already starting to make their way onto the market, driven by consumer desire for low sugar, low calorie easy drinking. If consumers are becoming more mindful of their drinking habits, companies, and the alcohol category as a whole, should be ready to adapt.
The low and no alcohol category is in its infancy and there are definitely some winners and losers at this embryonic stage. For me, beer has made great strides in recent years, with many products indistinguishable from their higher ABV counterparts but trying to find a low/no alcohol wine that isn’t incredibly sweet is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in this category that appeals to all palates.
Additionally, when it comes to no alcohol spirits, the prices can be eye watering, making it difficult for customers that just want to give the category a go. Low and no ready-to-drink cocktails or G&Ts, which naturally have a lower price point, could be a great way to bring new consumers into the category.
Although there have been claims from alcohol brands have made big claims surrounding low and no alcohol’s presence in its portfolio, there has been little traction made from any of the big players. Rather than this being a case of there being little thirst for it, could it possibly be due to the community-based nature of the category’s consumers who are rejecting the big multinationals? This is a space that smaller brands can really get their teeth into and build a loyal following with vocal brand ambassadors.
Sharing recipes in ‘chainmails’ (I’ve had a few myself), looking online for inspiration on what to cook next, enjoying Zoom dinner dates/parties, can’t eat out so eating in. These activities must surely drive Consumers to look for new exciting ingredients, interesting suppliers, complete restaurant quality meal solutions to overcome boredom?
Yet we hear that retailers don’t want to talk about new products and manufacturers are putting NPD on hold and furloughing product development teams, I get that it makes short-term financial sense but wonder if this short-term outlook will prevent retailers winning back a share of that ‘eating out’ spend they have been chasing, and could now be winning back?
Surely now is the right time for you to think more longer term and write that NPD brief for that fantastic restaurant quality product you know your team can produce, or the brief that is all about making it easier for consumers to serve up something wonderful, because you gave them a wow inducing ingredient or the centre of plate highlight.
Bakery must be the category of the moment, parents cooking with kids, everyone wanting to make bread and homemade treats, yet it seems to be the one aisle that is nowhere close to having normal availability, I can’t remember the amount of trips I’ve taken to stores and every time come away deflated without flour or yeast. It takes 60 days to change or create a new habit, will bakery miss the boat if it takes 60 days to sort out supply?
Solutions and innovation are often sparked by things happening in adjacent sectors, perhaps mills need to look to other categories for inspiration around packaging solutions, or maybe you aren’t a miller but have a packing line that is idle due to fall off in sales in some channels, and you could look to co-pack for a local mill, and help make a lot of amateur bakers a lot happier.
We all know how amazingly hard food manufacturers have worked with the retailers to overcome the challenge of getting products back into stores and feeding the nation, but I think for many the longer term challenge will be how to remain relevant in a Post Covid world, particularly when consumers may be worrying about money in their pockets.
Community forum chats are full of predictions that we will stop being nice to each other when the lockdown ends, and this is said with a real sadness. My view is that the companies who support and encourage people to continue to think about their communities and get involved are the ones that will thrive.
Are there ways that your brand can keep the community spirit going, perhaps through links with community networks that you actively promote/contribute to? But don't think you can get away with just playing at it - we all know just how effective the internet is at seeing through 'fake' anything really quickly.