Throughout the various lockdowns, people have turned to food for a sliver of normalcy. For many, some people for the first time, baking and cooking has become an enthusiastic creative outlet. However, there are also things we miss deeply: breaking bread with loved ones, clinking glasses, and the atmosphere of a thronging pub or restaurant. Whatever the case, this past year has been a formative time, not only for establishing habits, but for people’s emotional relationships with food. This is likely to affect industry trends for the foreseeable.
Last week, Elevate PR hosted a webinar on ‘The Future of Food’ to discuss the impacts of Covid and an outlook on the future. Emma Kelly, Elevate Founder and MD, hosted a panel of experts: Gillian Nelis, Deputy Editor of the Business Post and Food and Wine, Grace Binchy, Trends and Insight Specialist at Bord Bia, Paul Kelders, CEO of jump! Innovation and Niamh O’Sullivan, a food, style and sustainability influencer.
We’ve highlighted some of the big themes from their conversation:
According to Grace Binchy, Irish people miss our friends more than any of the other markets Bord Bia tracked. Paul Kelders was keen to advise brands to lead with ‘love.’ The social, political, and environmental ‘shocks’ we’ve all had to cope with ‘have increased the need, we as people have, for love.’ The pandemic has kept us apart. With online grocery delivery on the rise, and our interactions with restaurants limited, we are also experiencing a separation from food. As soon as circumstances allow, many people will be eagerly awaiting a reconnection. Food and drink brands have a huge opportunity to embody this spirit.
One of the central challenges about life in lockdown is replicating experiences at home. Since last March, Niamh O’Sullivan has pivoted her lifestyle blog to be much more focused on recipes and food videos. She has seen unprecedented enthusiasm from her followers. She has been experimenting with global recipes. She’s giving more consideration to drinks pairing and mixing cocktails as she tries to help her audience emulate the experiences they are missing from bars and restaurants. She encourages brands to lean into the heighted social media engagement, especially valuable food and drink video content, which people are especially eager for.
Gillian Nelis has been impressed at the ability of many Irish restaurants to translate their offering for dining at home. People are currently taking great comfort in these joyful diversions. However, when we ultimately emerge from lockdown, Paul thinks there will be a craving for new discoveries and decadent experiences. Consumers will have endured a lot of monotony and will expect brands to ‘show [them] something fantastic.’
We know that safety has been a big consumer consideration for retail settings. According to Bord Bia’s research, 64% of Irish people are minimising their trips to stores, with 36% of people choosing where to shop based on safety. In many ways this has been an opportunity for local retail. As Grace said, shoppers perceive local to be ‘safer and fresher.’ Gillian cited how part of the Covid impact has been ‘farm to fork on steroids’ as many small food producers adapt to ecommerce and direct to consumer selling.
In a time when shopping for food can feel so impersonal, consumers are forging trust with local producers. Niamh, for example, spoke fondly of her new routine of seeking the expertise of her neighbourhood butcher—something she will continue beyond lockdown. As building rapport with consumers is key to building trust, this has been a time for local relationships to flourish.
Looking towards the future, provenance will remain key. And for industries where provenance is especially sought after, like Irish Whiskey, honesty about how and where the product is produced is ever more critical. The interest from the public in ‘buying Irish’ has been heartily renewed across many categories over the last year. The panel was in agreement that, in terms of consumer trust, the tumultuous backdrop of Brexit, may also pave the way for small Irish producers looking to expand.
News of the pandemic may be dominating daily life. However, this hasn’t slowed the public conversation about sustainability. Packaging is currently an area of tension. Covid has caused an uptick in concern for hygiene. Bord Bia’s research revealed that 51% of people want their food and drinks to be sealed. Yet over a third of Irish consumers are focused on reducing their waste. With more time at home to interrogate our consumption and waste, as well as more time online to discuss the issue, consumers are more invested in sustainability, (or as Paul prefers to call it ‘pro-Earth’ strategy), than ever. There continues to be exciting new ingredient development in meat replacements and non-dairy milks, which are appealing to the growing cohort of flexitarian eaters. For younger consumers, or the ‘anti-hedonist generation’, as Grace referred to them as, these ‘pro-Earth’ food choices are increasingly a matter of personal identity.
For the majority of Irish people, the pandemic feels out of their control. One area where many feel they can assert their autonomy is in managing their personal health. The panel agreed that from updated restaurant menus to non-alcoholic spirits and healthier convenience food options, health was already a major trend in food. The pandemic has shifted the focus from being proactive to ‘protective.’ As our pace has slowed, many people have more time to be intentional about nutrition as they prepare meals from scratch at home. Whether that is eating less meat or eating more fruit and veg, people have also had more space to plan and experiment with new ways of eating. 34% of people are also consuming foods specifically for immunity. As we continue to leverage technology to holistically approach health, brands can expect an increasing demand for functional foods—specifically in the areas of immunity, mental health, and gut health.
You can watch The Future of Food and Drink webinar here.