Life has changed dramatically for every one of us in ways unimaginable a few months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown has meant consumer habits and behaviours have changed overnight, including the way we eat, sleep and exercise. But interestingly there is also early evidence to suggest that our attitudes towards food, consumption and health are also changing quickly. These attitudinal shifts are likely to cause further implications in behaviour over the days and weeks ahead.
Elephants Can’t Jump have been running consumer groups during the lockdown to trace these changing attitudes and behaviours.
One clear insight is that food and drink have already found new levels of significance during lock down for most of us. Not only are we buying more of it for home consumption, but as our routines change, so has our relationship with food and how it fits into our day. For many it has become a regular vice for boredom and stress, causing people to eat more and less healthily (more quantity and less quality). For others, it has become a marker of routine that enables them to maintain control and keep some structure to their day.
So what are the different roles that food plays during lock down?
- The highlight of the day: During lock down meals have become a central point of the day that people work their routines around, both in terms of preparation and sitting down to eat it as a household. Respondents frequently spoke about planning their week around different foods so that they had something to look forward to, be that a new dish for dinner or some weekend baking as a form of entertainment.
- A stress alleviator: As expected, the stress of these unusual circumstances is leading to people treating themselves more often with small luxuries. People feel like getting through the day and the endless news cycle of gloom, is cause for a rewarding glass of wine or bar of chocolate.
- A way to pass time: A lack of routine and working from home has increased snack frequency during the day. Making fun of this has become a form of light relief for people, reinforced by memes circulating around social media channels.
- The at home social: From TV dominated family evenings, to video calling friends – these occasions add to this ‘treat’ environment as they are easy grazing and drinking opportunities for the whole household.
- A form of entertainment: In the absence of other forms of entertainment, baking and cooking have become a key way to add excitement to the says. For parents, snacks and meals are also an opportunity to bargain with and entertain kids, as they try to balance childcare with working from home.
What can food and drink brands learn from this and how can they use this to help their consumers in this tough time?
Firstly, it is important to note that right now it is not all about margins and targeting consumers. It is about stepping up and doing your part for the community in whatever way you can. There have already been some wonderful initiatives such as Deliveroo enabling users to send free meals to NHS workers, and many smaller brands donating large amounts of stock to struggling food banks.
The fact that food and drink play such a big role in bringing a little joy to households during this time should not be taken lightly. It is a wonderful opportunity for brands to work collaboratively with their consumers and the wider community, building long-term relationships that can outlast the pandemic. This could be as simple as implementing initiatives to help frontline workers and vulnerable individuals or setting up a forum to share creative lock down recipes, and inspirational ways to reuse packaging for craft activities with the kids.
Moreover, as the novelty of working from home wears off and people try to reduce their stress and boredom eating, why not partner up with influencers to suggest top tips on how to bring some structure to your day through your food, or how to make ‘better for you’ indulgent treats to get people through those tough moments.
Then there is adapting to the new ‘at home social’ occasion, from watching movies to online quizzes and video calling friends. Many alcohol brands in particular need to get creative here as their business has shifted away from bars and restaurants. Sponsoring online community events such as virtual pubs, or radio festivals would be a wonderful way to create spaces for people to socialise and invest in the arts, whilst keeping your brand front of mind!
The possibilities are endless if brands are willing (and able) to look beyond the tough logistical issues that they face and use whatever limited resources they have, to help consumers and communities beyond the supermarket shelf.