#SocialThrowback2020 Monica Geller dons the chef’s heart yet again to recap F&B marketing trends

F&B marketing trends

Our perfectionist chef, Monica Geller, takes us through the F&B marketing trends that evolved in one of the most impacted sectors during the pandemic in 2020.

“Now, I need you to be careful and efficient,” everyone across the globe echoed this sentiment along with Monica when the COVID-19 havoc marched into our lives. One of the most impacted sectors was Food & Beverages wherein consumers were hesitant to step out or even order in, in the initial stage. Who better than the disciplined and highly conscious Monica Geller from FRIENDS to recap the F&B marketing trends from the year went by?

Changing Consumer Behaviour:  “It Just Got Interesting

According to the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), India’s US$50 billion restaurant industry is set to lose an ~US$9 billion in 2020. The pandemic induced lockdown set the Food & Beverages sector on a plunge where predictions were made that more than a quarter of restaurants and shops may shut down by the year-end.

As Monica would describe a drastic turn of events in her hyped tone – the ploy has just got interesting!  

Health and Wellness and healthier food habits that boost immunity got the attention they deserve during the last few months in the F & B space. “Perspective towards health changed from curative to preventative. People started searching for information on immunity and immunity-boosting products and eager to act which has led to increased consumption of food categories in the health and wellness space. Examples being Health Food Drinks, Traditional/Ayush categories,” shares Sriram Padmanabhan, Director Marketing at Danone India.

The second discernible impact is how the reduced out of mobility led to a fall in consumption of out of home F&B categories. This, however, benefited more in-home consumption categories with people spending more time at home snacking and cooking. There was a significant rise of digital platforms to inform consumers on the right choices coupled with dependence on e-commerce platforms to deliver without the need to step out of the home. Padmanabhan notes that the Indian online grocery market is expected to touch the sales of USD 3 billion (about INR 22,500 crore) in 2020 which is a 76% growth (YonY).

Meanwhile, Dineout registered a 70% spike in search behaviour on the app, as more consumers preferred their regular brands over newer ones. For instance, if you are a loyal customer of Dettol, you are more likely to purchase a sanitizer from the same brand. Similarly, if you are a Cafe Delhi Heights regular, you will opt for Cafe Dehi Heights over newer restaurants.

Ankit Mehrotra, CEO & Co-Founder, Dineout says, “The average Indian consumer is also very cautious, and is thinking twice before making a decision. You will step out only if you see 5 other folks going out or order from outside only when you see influencers and friends doing so. Consumers are increasingly looking for others’ experiences to make their own decisions, which is why brand positioning and brand loyalty has become the key ROI metric.”

This year we have new cooks in every household adding to the quintessential homemakers.

“We noted the rise of ordering food through aggregators like Swiggy & Zomato of the world. Millennials & GenZ are trying new brands and people are expected to spend more online than ever before for a foreseeable future. Hence brands not only have to be visible online but also available online & at the nearest kirana stores for purchase,” comments Rajheev Agarwal, Director & CEO, Nilon.

From being a social occasion, eating out in 2020 changed largely to an ‘at home’ activity, compelling many food players to pivot their business models and create a strong digital channel for ‘at home’ delivery. McDonald’s took this opportunity to invest in its McDelivery app, which was launched in 2013. The brand also launched contactless delivery assuring it’s customers the best standards in terms of safety and hygiene benchmarks.

“One of the strongest trends we saw emerge in 2020, was an ‘eat in your vehicle’ habit. The dual advantage of convenience and minimum social contact made drive-thrus a preferred channel for customers and we saw a phenomenal response for our drive-thru and the new on-the-go channels,” observes Arvind RP, Director of Marketing and Communications, McDonald’s India (West and South).

Indrajit Ghosh – Global Head- Marketing Communication and Design, Rebel Foods explains that it will now be essential to be transparent to the customer in every aspect of the food – from farm to fork. “Some of the interesting observations we noticed in the consumer behavior are, first, people are now more conscious of what they are eating, where the ingredients are sourced from, who is making their food,” he adds.

According to him, the new normal would need a different variety of food brands. Second, the emergence of ‘delivery-only restaurants’ has been expedited because of the current crisis. People may be very selective in terms of which restaurants and crowded places they visit. Third, ‘trust’ has become as important a factor as price and variety.

According to Manish Aggarwal, Director, Bikanervala Foods Pvt Ltd, it is also possible that the demand for essential food may surpass the demand for indulgent food and beverages, as is widely perceived and for obvious reasons. He says, “Yet, there is an element of subjectivity inherent in making that distinction between essential and indulgent foods. After all, what may be considered indulgent food for one set of consumers may even be essential for another set of consumers!”

F&B Marketing Trends 2020: “Deal With IT

Given the highly competitive nature of Monica, she is ready to deal with any situation and crisis thrown towards her and advises others to do the same.

Right from ensuring hygiene and safety protocols to being innovative in packaging and creating consumer-centric content, the new normal brought with it a new wave of doing business in the sector as F&B brands began to Deal With IT, it being the pandemic.  Players in the F&B category relooked their marketing strategies where the sales took a backseat and empathy gained prominence. Consumer trust and relatability outgrew ROI expectations in the marketing blueprints.

Also Read: #SocialThrowback2020: When FMCG Sector was as brave & innovative as Self Made Madam C.J. Walker

UserTesting, an on-demand Human Insight platform, revealed that 90% of customers agreed to increased brand loyalty for Burger King after reading the ad named “Order from McDonald’s.” The Twitter letter released in November 2020 by Burger King encouraged its followers to order from other competing fast-food franchises, pointing to chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC. Their initiative clearly paid off. The brand is now promoting local eateries through its social media handles.

Karan Shah, Director, Society Tea states that while earlier Food & Beverage brands preferred OOH and print advertising as their go-to mediums, with the pandemic, digital became the primary medium. The brand introduced its #StayAtHome campaign in May 2020 to encourage safety, remembering the beautiful memories, we collectively spent as a community, around tea.

Adopting a digital-first approach, Society Tea indulged in activities such as influencer engagement, increased its spends on OTT, and associated with marque properties like KBC and IPL 2020.

Technology finally crossed the threshold from being a potential driver to becoming the real overarching driver of all things marketing and advertising including in the food & beverage industry. “In that context, social media has been the go-to place for advertisers and marketers.  However, for tier 2 and tier 3 consumers, print and TV would still be preferred choice for advertising,” opines Aggarwal.

Secondly, he adds, the food and beverage industry has structured and presented it’s messaging around more humanistic and inclusive values. There has been a perceptible shift from product-centric campaigns to people-centric messaging.       

Other F&B brands too chimed in promoting their newer services or products catering to the need of the hour.

Starbucks India too launched a dance challenge promoting it’s portable beverage offerings that consumers can enjoy at home, replicating the cafe experience. In another story, spearheaded by comedian Abhishek Upmanyu, RJ Abhinav, and Neha Dhupia, the #BringMcGrillBack, an influencer campaign resulted in the re-introduction of Chicken McGrill on the menu of McDonald’s North and East zone restaurants.

A learning from 2020, that I am taking into 2021, is – building community, builds brands where Social Media is he 5th P. Stay in touch, speak to customers rather than spam them, make sure they understand that duty does not end at the doorstep of delivery, the experience starts at the entry into a customer’s household. Focus on building communities,” shares Ghosh.

Apart from ensuring hygiene practices, Rebel Foods took to social media to advocate trust, concentrated on packaging being the new storefront, rolled out campaigns for its various subsidiary products – each delivering messages relevant to the products and spread awareness about its quality services.

Different brands took different routes to drive home the message. Masala is the pulse of India – we love it in our food, moods, and conversations. Playing on this, Nilon’s #AchaarWithVichaar aimed to build consideration for pickles in the minds of the new-age consumer as they played chef at home. The rap anthem was the brand’s first crowdsourced anthem featuring content creators and users.

During the festive period, Nilon yet again collaborated with influencers who preparing their favorite mithai while encouraging people to indulge in happy, safe, and #ChashniWaliDiwali from their homes. The brand made sure that the offering was made available in-stores and on Amazon, Flipkart simultaneously. Special emphasis was laid to make the digital experience a seamless one and drive more online orders through their integrated communication plan across platforms.

To show their consumers commitment towards helping those in need, Dineout launched ‘Project Thali’, a community-driven initiative that aimed to connect the dots between volunteers, NGOs, and the government ensuring everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable communities received food and nourishment.

Mehrotra adds here, “F&B brands are looking beyond packaging and celebrity endorsements for their products or services. Instead, they have taken the effort to upgrade their offerings to meet the demand of the end users and re-instill faith.”

Taking a fun approach in their next initiative the brand rolled out a virtual cookoff with celebrity chefs. The contest banked on the lockdown trend of budding homechefs.

Padmanabhan notes that OTT became an important channel for brand advertising and partnerships during the time. Consumers’ adoption of e-commerce during pandemic greatly benefitted digital with hyperlocal gaining prominence with local level activation and service offerings. .

Content also reflected the growing interest in food and led to the popularity of new recipes ad cooking shows. Lastly, Influencer marketing grew manifold as consumers consumed more digital content. Danone India bet big on influencer marketing and A-list celebrity promotions to market its offerings for different brands like Protinex.

Through the course of the lockdown, Starbucks focused on a number of digital solutions to make customer ordering more ubiquitous. The brand introduced Mobile Order and Pay and WhatsApp payments and launched it’s first Drive Thru store in India.

“To address our customer’s need for Omnichannel experiences; we innovated with product formats like the 1-liter beverage introduction that could be consumed at home or neighborhood reach out programs for customers to experience Starbucks in the comfort of their homes. Focus on taking away and deliveries also added to the same,” shares Deepa Krishnan, Director – Marketing, Digital, Loyalty, PR at Tata Starbucks.

Starbucks also launched the #ReconnectWithStarbucks campaign for personalizing customer experiences through digitally-led initiatives. Be it the “Order Call out” (baristas delivering personalized messages to customers online through voice notes); or creating virtual meeting wallpapers which allowed the customers to meet digitally yet feel like they were at their neighborhood Starbucks. Additionally, it connected with the customers online by creating a unique coffee experience at their homes through a virtual coffee tasting session.

What’s NEXT? “I needed a plan to get over it”

Just like Monica tries turning any negative situation on its head and comes up with a solution, F&B majors have thought of an insights-backed approach towards the era which is hopeful to see the lesser impact of COVID-19.

Danone India plans to continue to drive higher consideration for its brands. TV along with relevant digital platforms in search video will form the key channels in its media mix while social media will play a key role to drive brand preference.

Padmanabhan adds, “Brands will have to walk a tight rope in terms of how they balance their marketing mix in terms of digital and traditional mediums of advertising. Measurement parameters have remained constant with a focus on determining effectiveness and efficiency.”

Dineout too has scaled its ad spends to pre-COVID times and is investing heavily in this quarter as dining out trends are back to 80% of what they used to be pre-COVID, despite curfews and restrictions in certain cities. The media mix is more skewed towards retargeting and bringing back lost customers to the app while also experimenting with different channels and collaborating with various brands to create a strong recall with multiple touch-points.

According to Krishnan, another aspect of social media that the brand has discovered and sees immense potential in, is of engaging with various likeminded brands and spreading it’s brand messaging to a far wider audience. “Our recent collaboration with Flipkart to deliver Starbucks merchandise across all Indian markets has received a lot of positive response from our patrons online and we hope to continue this momentum!” she says.

For Mehrotra, the only thing that has truly evolved post-COVID is the brand’s belief in the social media ecosystem and brand communications bringing in long-term ROI.

While the initial stages of the pandemic saw many brands scrambling to put out the right messaging about their products, the only thing that worked in their favour were actual actions. “Marketing for 2021, is going to be focused on our EatSure initiative. The messaging will convey the promise of quality food, made with utmost precaution,” says Ghosh.

For Bikanervala Foods, however, what has really changed in terms of advertising as a medium is that the erstwhile exclusive focus on taste has given way to hygiene and safety factors that we wish to highlight before our customers. At the same time, its efforts towards constantly engaging with it’s patrons on social media through daily posts and blogs has helped keep a pulse on consumer choices and they plan to continue it.

Road to 2021- Not just clean. ‘Monica Clean’

With hygiene practices gaining utmost importance during these times, the ecosystem needs people who like it ‘clean’. But then there are people who like it REALLY clean. Like, *Monicaclean.

The industry has been adapting and innovating since the unlock phases began and is slowly regaining its share of profitability. With a focus on maintaining strict hygiene standards and leveraging the trend of the at-home experience via the digital medium, the F&B industry is headed for a transformation in the coming year.