Future Foodies of America

Future Foodies of America

A few weeks ago I went to visit two of my friends from college who are now married with a young daughter.  I’ve known them both for many years and one of our shared passions has always been food and cooking. Obviously since having a kid, many things in their life have changed and their apartment has been taken over by baby-phanalia. But, looking around their living room with its mini chrome “play kitchen” (including play fruit and vegetables and pots/pans) and an entire bookshelf dedicated to baby food cookbooks, I could see that their love of food has stayed the same.

The baby food industry has been steadily profitable because, well, people will always have babies. But it’s an industry that’s seen tremendous innovation and growth because of parents’ demands for increased convenience and desire for healthy ingredients. Several years ago Beech-Nut Nutrition, producer of packaged baby food, led a market research study that found that homemade purees (baby food made in people’s own kitchens) accounted for one third of total baby food consumed. Their explanation, according to this NYTimes article, was that baby food available for purchase in grocery stores wasn’t fulfilling parents’ needs so they were taking to making their own. And a recent market analyst by Technavio found that “...there is growing anxiety about the safety of the products consumers use, more so the food they consume. A preference for organic baby products stems from a concern for health and general well-being.” In response to these findings, Beech-Nut revamped their entire line of products to include organic purees and exotic ingredients such as pomegranate and quinoa. As a result of the shift towards organic, wholesome baby products, several new organic-based baby food lines also popped up in the market including Sprout, Ella’s Kitchen, and Plum Organics.

Packaging has also been a huge innovation in the baby food market. Pouches were introduced in the 2000s and have been the biggest driver in increased sales. Quality-wise, the food isn't really that different from the traditional jars but parents love them for the convenience factor. Think about how much easier it is to throw a little plastic pouch in your bag versus a glass jar. And no spoon is needed!

But updated packaging plus organic ingredients equals more expensive so some parents still prefer to create their own at home. And as more and more parents are making their own baby food, several companies have capitalized on this trend by inventing all-in-one baby food machines. Machines like Baby Bullet and Baby Brezza are marketed specifically to new parents and promise to steam/cook and puree ingredients in a minimal amount of time.

I’ve also noticed a really strong preference among my friends who are parents to raise “adventurous eaters.” As a result, parents are trying to introduce exotic flavors to their children when they’re very young. If you look the hundreds of baby food cookbooks, many try to go beyond the standard carrot and apple purees by incorporating unusual fruits or vegetables and several spices. My personal favorite I’ve seen is Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste, which includes recipes for items such as pumpkin and thyme puree and apple, mint, and ricotta puree.

With increasing concerns about farming and produce and our general obsession with food, it’s no surprise that the global baby food market is forecasted to surpass $82 billion by 2022 and see tremendous growth in new products and packaging. I’m constantly shocked by the amount of stuff marketed to new parents and babies but with this predicted revenue growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see companies come up with new ways to appeal to new parents’ tastes. Perhaps soon you’ll visit your local grocery store and see an entire line of celebrity-chef inspired purees? Or maybe even a Blue Apron delivery service dedicated to cooking your own baby food?

- Cassie

 

Not Your Average University

Not Your Average University

Now that winter has come to an end, I can’t stop thinking about the fact I have been out of school for a year. Although I know I am still young, and in retrospect a year isn’t that long, I can’t help but reminisce on the times I spent hanging out with friends, ordering late night eats, and debating if I should set my alarm for class the next morning (sorry mom!) I am not usually one for nostalgia, but looking back on my four years at Penn reminded me to check out one of my favorite publications, spoonuniversity.com.

Spoon University, which was started by two Northwestern graduates, Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler, is a student-run publication created to share recipes, health and lifestyle stories, restaurant reviews, and other food related content to millennials and college students all across the country. With endless food related publications out there; my question is, how did Spoon University grow to attract 4 million unique visitors per month, partner with over 150 college campuses across the country, and get 3,000 plus students to actively contribute year round?

First of all, Spoon University has a very specific target audience: millennials. The initial idea for Spoon University was created because Barth and Adler (millennials themselves) both struggled with cooking and meal time throughout college. Targeting millennials made it easy for the founders to relate to their audience, and gave SpoonU a large enough fan base to really take off.

Second of all, while there are a ton of other foodie publications on the web, Spoon University has a pretty unique business model that has helped differentiate it, and keep it successful. Rather than the two founders coming up with all the content on their own, each school participating has their own “chapter,” which is run by independent groups at each college or university. Not only does this model give each writer freedom to do their own thing, it keeps Spoon University’s content diverse. Barth and Adler knew that “food was becoming a much bigger conversation at college,” they knew students would want to “create things, and leave their own personal imprint,” which is exactly what Spoon University allows them to do. Now, students around the country are actually willing to pay a membership fee to write articles, eager to get their knowledge on food out into the world.

Third of all, the relaxed environment Spoon University created has paid off big time. Spoon University keeps their atmosphere casual by not enforcing harsh deadlines or putting pressure on students to write an unrealistic amount of articles per month. In many ways, Spoon University has become a living example of what nearly every millennial “employee” would suggest: no real boss, flexible hours, and a way to get their voice out there. While most companies are just realizing these trends, the founders of Spoon University took them as truths from the beginning and were able to formulate a great business model around it.

The final aspect that has kept Spoon University so successful is that it spans all social channels. What started as a simple website is now spread across Facebook, Instagram, twitter, and even snapchat. By creating a platform that easily spreads across all networks Spoon University has been able to continue to grow and expand their content from online articles to short video tutorials, live stream recipe creations, and more.

From a culinary marketing standpoint, Spoon University has done a good job. They targeted a specific but large audience, came up with a unique and strategic business model that also appeals to their audience, and found creative ways to expand on all social channels; which is why their popularity continues to climb.

A Corporate dinner table?

A Corporate dinner table?

The creation of brand focused restaurants such as Kellogg’s Pop Up (http://kelloggsnyc.com/) and Cadillac branded restaurant got me thinking, how far could the idea of co-branding go in the culinary industry?  As it currently stands, there are a few examples (some seen below) of larger restaurant chains who have successfully integrated other brands into their own menus, creating new buzz for both of the businesses involved.

Taco Bell and Frito-Lay:

These two came together to create one of Taco Bell’s best-selling menu items, The Doritos Locos Taco. This collaboration had fans guessing via social media for weeks about what the next flavor of Doritos Locos Tacos would be, which created huge media buzz before the item was even announced. Eventually the introduction of Doritos Locos Taco’s became the brands third most successful product platform, and even brought Chris Brandt, the old chief marketing officer of Taco Bell to say, “The partnership continues to prove the power of two mega brands working together to create firsts in restaurants and on the grocery aisle.”

TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s:

This duo partnered together to create a smoky glaze for the TGI Fridays menu that hit the jackpot. “This partnership has synergy for both brands,” explained Robert Byrne, manager of market insights at Techonomic. Jack Daniel’s was one of the first spirit labels to make a strong connection to a large restaurant chain, and beyond great brand recognition, this partnership also lead to a huge hit on the TGI Fridays menu. Deciding to work together was a success for TGI Fridays and Jack Daniel’s because it was a thought out partnership on both ends. TGI Fridays played to the fact that they are a festive restaurant, positioned around a bar, making a spirits brand tie-in the perfect co-branding partner for them. 

Outback Steakhouse and Stewart-Hass Racing:

This co-branding partnership is relatively different from the other examples provided, but it is just as successful. Rather than creating a new menu item, Outback decided to create a promotion involving Stewart-Hass and NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick. This promotion is called “Happy Bloomin’ Monday” and it lets fans receive a free Bloomin’ Onion on any Monday during NASCAR season where Harvick finishes in the top-10 of a Sprint Cup Series. Like TGI Fridays, Outback made a very smart decision based on their demographic they chose a partner that they knew would get customers excited and coming back Monday after Monday.

Looking at some of the larger chain restaurants that have been successful through co-branding partnerships led me to my next few questions- will we ever see brands begin to infiltrate the dinner tables at higher end restaurants across the country? Is that something we want?

At The Connect Group we know our way around a dinner table so we personally see the potential of brands infiltrating nicer restaurants.  We also know, however, the integrity of a meal experience is king, so any successful program must enhance the experience, not detract from it.  With that in mind, even at the finer dining establishments, there are ways for brands to naturally fit into the mix.  Here are a few basic examples:

Check presenters:

While presenting customers with a check, almost all restaurants use some kind of presentation method, this could include anything from a classic check presenter, to a clip board, to a more creative application, like a postcard. With that in mind, car service companies, like Uber, Lyft, Juno or others, could utilize check presentations by providing an opportunity or incentive for customers. For example, placing a coupon code on each check, so the diners not only think to use that service to take them home, but they are also getting a good deal. This idea could also be a great place for auto companies, real estate companies, and others in these genres.

Charging stations:

Depending on the brand activation, space, and brand message, charging stations could be offered to charge guests phones during their meal. This is not only a convenience for customers, but is also a great way to combat the ever prevalent problem of people being distracted by their phones during meals. It’s time to take back meal time, and counterintuitive to this post, this would be a good way to do that.

Walk-away gifts:

So, you ordered the steak and loved the spice rub they used? Well, if a brand sponsored a spice giveaway with each order you would be in luck. Giving away spices, or sauces with branded labels or gift tags would be a great surprise at the end of any meal, and an efficient way to for brands to market their product.      

Condiments/Snacks:

What better place to brand than actually on a customer’s table? While not all restaurants have condiments on their tables, most do, so this could be an organic and effective place for brands to integrate themselves into a meal.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for brand infiltration one way or another, but as companies (and agencies like us) continue to push the envelope and look for ways to engage with audiences, restaurants could be the next frontier.  

- Lonny Sweet

What can Food do for You?

What can Food do for You?

Over the past 7 years, I’ve been fortunate to be on the forefront of some unbelievably exciting campaigns throughout the marketing world.  I’ve orchestrated celebrity ambassador campaigns, led charitable initiatives and run corporate events, and while each have their own measure of success, my tenure in the culinary marketing vertical has given me a fresh perspective on an age old question:  What can be done to make the ordinary, extraordinary?  A loaded question, and yet, the answer has been right in front of us; make food centerpiece. 

Having spent a few days down in Miami for South Beach Wine & Food Festival (my first as an “insider” in the food-space) the palpable buzz throughout the city has left me thinking about just how incredible our industry really is.  To walk around South Beach throughout the week is to see a flock of food-connected travelers excitedly running from event to event, taking in all that SOBEWFF is all about; great food and beautiful scenes in a world-class festival setting.  While the food was incredible and the crowd’s positivity infectious, what really drew me in was the story of SOBEWFF and the corporate partners who were jumping in head first to tell it.  Being there in person was incredible, to say the least, but my mind was immediately drawn to thinking of ways we can bring the experience to the masses, namely those who can’t be there physically. 

No question, eating great food from the best chefs in the country makes for a dream experience and it goes without saying; the application for food in the “event” setting is natural, somewhat obvious and yet, is continuously evolving.  My coworkers and I have gone into great detail in recent blogs about what that means exactly (give them a read!)  While that, in and of itself, is an exciting proposition for anyone in the culinary world, it is time to start seeing food for more than just an in-person experience. 

Food is the great unifier.  Food is a way to tell a story that reaches everyone.  Recently, I’ve been speaking with a number of blue-chip brands and products that most of us use in our everyday lives, but not just about how they can host a dinner for VIPs; we’re discussing how they can tell their story through the eyes of the food-connected. 

When a chef sits down to curate a menu for their new restaurant or tests a new menu item they hope to implement, what are the tools around them that they reach for to help them?  Everything from the music they listen to and the books they read to their own stress-relieving outlets offer a story ready to be told.  Marc Forgione recently did a wonderful piece in partnership with Remy Martin about what music means to him as his go-to relaxation outlet.  While in person dining experiences are obviously a critical element to the partnership, it is the packaged story that makes it relatable for the at-home consumer.  Watching the video and seeing Marc strum his guitar and talk about the parallels between food and music is the different perspective the average consumer wants (or needs) to engage with a brand.  That’s what gets me excited here every day – our goal every day is to help companies tell their own “food stories”. 

Food, and the overall dining experience, holds an inherent meaning that is unique to each and every one of us.  My dream meal may be drastically different than yours, and the holiday dinner table at the Pinkow household almost definitely looks different than it does for your family (just ask my Italian wife about her first Passover sedar with my family).  That said, it is the role food plays that is the constant.  It’s the stories being told and the experiences shared that prove to be the reasons we come back for more.  For all the “marketers” out there, I implore you to think about food as a “storyteller”, a medium on which you can share your message and reach an entirely new audience.  For all our differences, one thing will always remain true; we all eat!

The Rocking Food

The Rocking Food

I’m still winding down from the delicious, busy, and exciting long weekend that is the yearly South Beach Wine & Food Festival down in Miami. This was my fourth year heading down with the Connect Group and Chef Marc Forgione and over the years I’ve been to many events that range in theme and offerings. But the overall format of these events is generally the same: walk-around tastings with 30-40 different chefs/restaurants or a sit down dinner with multiple courses.

This year The Connect Group had the pleasure of activating King’s Hawaiian sponsorship events during SOBEWFF which included The Art of Tiki on Friday night and Bacardi on the Beach with Beats by Rev Run & DJ Ruckus. Now, I’m not knocking the standard food festival events, they do a great job of marketing the chefs/restaurants and promoting their sponsors. And obviously people love attending them! But as with most things, the more different and unique an event is, the more it stands out.

At first, Bacardi on the Beach seemed like it would be like one of the standard walk-around food festival events. After an hour or so though, it became apparent that this was more of a standout event. It wasn’t just that the crowd was younger and more diverse than the other tentpole events. What made this event truly stand out was that the star wasn’t the food. The music was.

Bacardi on the Beach was a music event that happened to have food. And that doesn’t mean the food wasn’t important. If anything, I would say that the focus on the music enhanced the food even more. I find that at a lot of the tasting events, eating can seem like less of an enjoyable experience and more of a sport as some people are determined to run around and try as many dishes as possible. Sometimes it can even get ugly. I was once elbowed in the face by an older woman for a dumpling, no joke. At Bacardi on the Beach, people were dancing and singing and having a great time. I know it might be a stretch to say this but I truly think the dancing and working up a sweat and overall fun/light mood made people really enjoy what they were eating.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been to a non-food festival with a heavy emphasis on food. Now in it’s seventh year, Governor’s Ball is a 3-day music festival that takes place on Randall’s Island. The food definitely isn’t an afterthought at Gov Ball. It gets it’s own “lineup” and the vendors are all curated by popular food website The Infatuation. A couple of years ago I also had the chance to go to Life is Beautiful, a 3-day art and music festival in Downtown Las Vegas. Life is Beautiful takes a different approach to food and actually makes the chefs part of their programming with a dedicated cooking demo stage and chef-hosted elevated food stations in the VIP areas.

Though food at music festivals isn’t a new thing, I’m always looking at new and exciting ways to combine food with lifestyle events or re-invent the typical food festival experience. Sometimes I think we forget that it doesn’t always have to be JUST about the food as there are lots of ways to inject a memorable food experience into other fun activities.

- Cassie

The Perfect Moment

The Perfect Moment

           Sponsoring large events, like the Super Bowl, is a great way for brands to get their name out there, but is it really the best way for brands to make a cultural mark? Being a part of these large events has its pros, but it also has the ability to overshadow the sponsoring brands. Rather than latching on to someone else’s moment, we at The Connect Group think brands should start focusing on creating an experience they can define and own themselves. This can create room for a richer brand experience, and also help consumers start to see brands as a larger lifestyle, not just a product. Many larger brands have already tapped into this idea and have had major success because of it, here are a few examples of these brands and what they have done to create their own moments:

Chipotle

           In 2010, Chipotle launched Cultivate. Cultivate is a one-day, free festival that brings people together to celebrate food and music. This festival offers live music and on-site chef demonstrations, as well as interactive experiences focused on sustainable food. Beyond offering a fun space for consumers to have a good time, Chipotle also uses the festival as a platform to encourage attendees to think and talk about food in an engaging setting.  Now in its six year, Cultivate has partnered with countless other brands including Naked Juice, and California Avocados, and has proved to be a successful marketing tool for the brand. Rather than piggybacking off other brands events, Chipotle has created its own, and the success of Cultivate is a true testament to the power of brands creating their own moment. 

Budweiser

           Budweiser’s Made in America music festival is an event I have been to myself, so I can testify its popularity. This music festival features some of the top artists in the country and attracts nearly 80,000 people each year. Budweiser partners with Live Nation to create this wildly popular show that now takes place in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Budweiser took a risk by creating their own festival, but this moment still has consumers excited and thinking about Budweiser as a brand, making the risk worth the reward.

Bacardi

           Partnering with Swizz Beatz and the Dean Collection, Bacardi produced an event called No Commission: Art Performs. This four-day, immersive brand experience showcased art, music, and of course delicious cocktails. This event had consumers going nuts for the product. Not only did more than 7,000 people attended this event but it also received over 500 million social impressions, including coverage from The New York Times, W Magazine, the Huffington Post, and more. Like Chipotle and Budweiser, Bacardi created their own branding event, and it payed off.

           Since part of our job here at The Connect Group is helping brands get creative and come up with these unique moments, we understand how beneficial it can be to think outside of the marketing box; and although these “moments” can take time to develop, if they are done right the investment can yield a higher ROI than a traditional sponsorship. By creating these types of moments, brands like Chipotle, Budweiser, and Bacardi can display their own unique values and identity while simultaneously selling their products, which is a winning situation in our book.

Food, the Universal Valentine

Food, the Universal Valentine

          Whatever your opinion of Valentine’s Day is, it is undoubtedly one of the most prominent food connected holidays of the year.  Whether you are single going out with your friends for a family style dinner, enjoying an intimate dinner with your partner, or getting broccoli thrown at you during a family hibachi night (yes, that one is me), food is at the center of this holiday.

          For proof, look no further than the National Retail Federation, which estimated that Americans spent just shy of $19 billion on Valentine’s Day-related items this year.

          In response to this, brands (and restaurants) are getting smart and using the Valentine’s Day craze to brand and market their products. Below are a few examples of how brands and restaurants are hopping on this marketing “love train.”

Tesco

Tesco is getting consumers in the valentine’s spirit through a promotion that matches people up according to what items they buy at the Grocery Store. http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/valentines-day-spending-projected-reach-189-billion-year-162568/

Burger King

Burger King took a hint from Christian Grey by offering an Adult only Meal Box with an adult toy inside. http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/burger-king-sex-toy-meal?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_fw

          We at TCG are romantics at heart so to share some love ourselves, we came up with a few Valentine’s Day ideas we would love to see come to life:

LOVE & FOOD POP UP

For one night only, we would love to see a brand create a full custom Valentine’s Day Pop Up restaurant that offers 100 lucky couples the opportunity to experience love and food in a way they never have before. Partnering with a high profile celebrity chef to design and execute a mind blowing menu in an environment that evokes love and connection would be the perfect setting for a romantic evening.  Reservations for the Love & Food Pop Up would only be available the day before or the morning of Valentine’s Day and via a social media competition, making it a more exclusive and appealing ticket.

The Relationship Saver

Built for a brand with a “saving you money” message (insurance, wireless, etc), this program would be built to “Save” the relationship of those boyfriends/husbands/wives/girlfriends who waited too long to make a reservation and ended up with nothing. The brand (via an agency like Connect) would secure a number of high profile, prime time reservations at the best restaurants across the country on Valentine’s Day with the intent of giving them out to those who need them the most. To participate in the program, consumers would upload video pitches on why their relationships deserved to be “saved”, which would then be posted on a subsite and voted on by the general public. This promotion would be pushed out via the celebrity chefs who own the restaurants, select influencers, and via an aggressive PR/Social campaign.  

The At Home Night Out

For those who don’t want to brave the restaurant scene on V-Day, but still want to do something special for the one they love (and don’t have cooking skills), a brand could create a consumer promotion that involves celebrity chefs in multiple markets cooking Valentine’s Day dinners in the privacy of the select consumers’ homes.

          Food, like Love, is one of the few things that crosses language barriers, unites the soul and truly taps into the emotional spirit of humans across the world (something we all need right now).  It is from that place of love that strong brand affinity is created and brand loyalty is established.  So brands, put on your thinking caps, spread the love and let’s use Valentine’s day 2018 to create programs to reach the ever important food connected audience.   

Much love and eating

- Lonny Sweet

 

Super Bowl Follow Up: From the Eyes of the Food-Connected

Super Bowl Follow Up: From the Eyes of the Food-Connected

            Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, you may have heard something about Super Bowl 51.  Yes, the Patriots pulled off the most miraculous comeback in the sport’s illustrious history.  Yes, Tom Brady is officially in a class all his own with 5 rings and 4 Super Bowl MVP’s – which [sigh] officially makes him the greatest to ever do it.  And yes, that sound you just heard was this Jets fan dry heaving as he is forced to publicly admit that.  All kidding aside, Super Bowl 51 gave us one of the most exhilarating, dramatic and simply put, remarkable championship games in history – something this country needed desperately in these divisive times.  

            As great as the game proved to be, for those lucky enough to experience Super Bowl’s physical footprint first hand, you know it to be much more than just a game.  Every year, the host city opens its doors to sports fans, corporate America and blue-chip brands alike to give them the experience of a lifetime, and it just so happens that there’s a football game at the end of it all.  It should come as no surprise, but food plays an integral role in the “Super Bowl experience”. 

           Every city has its own identity, its own culture, cuisine, etc.  Houston has a story all its own.  Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, its historically native cuisine can best be described as Tex-Mex meets Louisiana Creole meets Texas BBQ, yet is in the midst of a culinary revolution, drawing inspiration from the city’s incredibly diverse populace (try the Vietnamese inspired Cajun spots!).  David Chang, one of NYC’s most popular restaurateurs recently declared Houston to be “the next global food mecca”, a powerful statement by a culinary superstar. While I may not have appreciated it, that notion came to life for me as I walked the streets of Houston, looking for the perfect meal. 

            For the uninitiated, I beg you to make your way to one of Houston’s cajun bars and order yourself a mountain of crawfish (don’t cheap out on the spice – thank me later), then seek out some tacos at the nearest Tex-Mex joint , and wrap up your trip with some proper BBQ.  We say it all the time; if you want to experience true local culture, find out where the natives eat and act accordingly. You may be surprised by what you find. 

            I was fortunate enough to walk through the ‘NFL Live’ footprint and enjoy a late lunch at one of the food trucks littered around the perimeter.  I kid you not, there was even a monster truck, of sorts, transformed into a mobile demo kitchen wherein local chefs gave interactive demonstrations on how to cook like a true Houstonian. The crowds were huge, people were well-fed and they all left talking about the FOOD, not just the big game looming. 

            When you’re catering to a “who’s who” group of VIPs, average just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the grub.  Wheels Up’s annual Super Bowl bash, traditionally one of the week’s more exclusive parties, perfectly highlighted the local cuisine and offered everything from crawfish and oysters to tacos and real, Texas ‘cue. No one left that party hungry (or thirsty, for that matter). 

            Chase took a different route to highlight the local fare, hosting a series of private dinners at one of Houston’s top restaurants, Reef.  Exclusively available to Chase’s Inside Access members, the dinner paired Houston’s top chef, Bryan Caswell, with New Orleans mainstay, John Besh and local Houston pastry chef Rebecca Masson to offer attendees a unique insight into Houston hospitality. The result was a refined dining experience that left the attendees in awe. 

            Maybe you’ve missed it or haven’t been paying attention, but the trend has been building for quite some time now. Nowadays, you don’t go to a ballgame and seek out a cheap hot dog; you expect refined food service offerings. Stadiums, arenas and even airports around the country are in the midst of a culinary revolution, highlighting local cuisine, celebrity chefs and a refined dining culture.  If you’re hosting a private event, or a big blue-chip brand looking to activate in the marketing vertical, remember, food can be more than just a simple meal.  It’s a sensory experience - an opportunity to provide deeper, more meaningful connections with your audience. 

            You want your event to really resonate?  Give your guests something they’ve never had, open their eyes to something they’ve never seen, and let them experience culture like never before. Food is the ultimate medium to do just that….

Super Branding by having your Product in Super Bowl Commercial

Super Branding by having your Product in Super Bowl Commercial

              The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons are not the only ones gearing up for Super Bowl LI, this NFL Championship game is also extremely important for marketers and brands. With over 100 million viewers each year, having your product in a Super Bowl commercial is a guaranteed (but expensive) way for brands to make themselves known. This year advertisers are thinking outside of the box to keep viewers engaged. As Bruce Lefkowitz, the executive VP of ad sales for Fox Networks Group said, “Companies are rethinking how they can ensure getting attention, and awareness from viewers.”

               Mars, the company behind Snickers and the famous “you’re not you when you’re hungry” slogan, is taking an attention-grabbing risk by filming their commercial live during the third quarter of the football game. Allison Miazga-Bedrick, the Snickers brand director said, “every year we challenge ourselves to find new ways to satisfy our fans hunger for entertainment by delivering something new and breakthrough, and there is no better way than being the first to have a Super Bowl live ad.” Recently, live ads have been gaining traction on many TV channels. For example, in December, during the NBC broadcast of the musical “Hairspray Live” brands like Oreo, Toyota, and Reddi-Wip all used live ads to attract customers. Marketers and Advertisers are using live ads because it is an effective way to draw more attention and capitalize on excitement from TV or Facebook, and anything that happens in real time. This makes the audience feel like they’re not being forced to watch commercials, but are actually part of a captive live experience. In an effort to gain additional awareness and excitement from viewers, Mars is hosting a 36-hour live stream on their website and Facebook page which will begin Thursday before the game. Although not many details have been revealed about the 36-hour live stream, the brand did say that the stream will tie into the commercials western theme and be a fully integrated 360 campaign to reinforce the brand's connection to hunger satisfaction.

               Brands like Mars are working hard to appeal to customers. They are staying on top of the trends by tapping into the growing interest in live streaming, and the Super Bowl is the best platform for them to get in front of the largest number of customers. Hopefully these live ads run smoothly during the game; and more importantly, hopefully the Falcons take down the Patriots, because as attractive as Tom Brady is, I really don’t want to see him take home his fifth Super Bowl title.   

- Kate Moelis

What's on the Menu That's Gluten-Free, Organic, non-GMO, No Dairy, No Sugar?

What's on the Menu That's Gluten-Free, Organic, non-GMO, No Dairy, No Sugar?

During our holiday break, my family hosted two giant Christmas dinners and I went to San Francisco for 4 days so I did some seriously indulgent eating and drinking. This is why my friends were able to convince me, a self proclaimed cheese and soy sauce-a-holic, to commit to a 2-week no sugar, no gluten, no dairy (aka “no fun”) diet.  My first thought when I committed to this ridiculous-sounding diet was “what the heck am I going to eat???” Turns out, the answer is a lot.

Over the last couple years, the food industry has seen a huge boom in healthy, organic, and all-natural products. Many brands are focusing on either developing or acquiring health-centric foods, largely due to the fact that there has been a 30% growth of consumers in the US with food allergies. General Mills was one of the big brands to release gluten-free products, seeing a predicted growth in sales of $10.6 billion for the category, and has released several gluten-free versions of their products, including Cheerios.

And even though our society has long been obsessed with the newest diet or health trend (remember “South Beach Diet” or Olestra?), it seems as though this will be less of a trend and more of a cultural shift. Consumers are even willing to pay more money for products that promise to be healthier and/or aid in weight loss. According to Forbes, 88% of those polled are willing to pay more for healthier foods and this includes all age demographics.

This shift towards being more health-conscious isn’t only with consumer products. According to the National Restaurant Association site, more than seven out of 10 adults try to eat healthier when they go out to a restaurant than they did two years ago.  And the government is even trying to help us on the path towards more healthful eating, creating a law in 2010 that requires U.S. Restaurants with more than 20 locations to display calorie counts. It may not have been the main factor to help significantly lower sales at McDonalds but it certainly makes people question their order when they see the “563 calories” under a Big Mac.

What does this all mean for brands and restaurants? I don’t think it’s necessarily time to get rid of the deep fryers and baked goods. But I do think restaurants and chefs, who historically have had a “no substitutions” attitude when it comes to their dishes and menu, should pay close attention to this shift towards healthy and allergen-free eating and adapt their menus accordingly. It also means that if I continue with my “no fun” diet for another two weeks, I’ll have lots of choices when I go to the grocery store.

- Cassandre Pallas

 

 

To phone, or not to phone, that is the mealtime question...

To phone, or not to phone, that is the mealtime question...

A week or so ago a friend of mine sent me a video of Simon Sinek, an author and motivational speaker, discussing “The Millennial Question” (worth the time to watch). While Mr. Sinek brings up more than a handful of insightful, interesting, as well as disturbing points during the interview, I wanted to focus on one that directly impacts the culinary marketing business- mealtime. 

During the interview, Mr. Sinek talks about how living in a social media focused world impacts our ability to create deep, and meaningful relationships. He points out that dopamine is actually released into the body when we receive a text or a like during social media interactions; the same dopamine levels as when an alcoholic drinks or a gambler gambles.  This sudden chemical release is the root cause of physical addiction, which is why as a culture we are becoming more and more dependent on cellphones and social media.

How does this relate to the culinary world one might ask? Well, here is a question for you- If you go out to dinner, have a coffee with someone, or share some time at a table with family or friends, is your phone on the table? Do you take your phone out to look at texts or emails during a meal, instead of just being in the moment and actually enjoying your company? More than likely, if you are being honest with yourself, you answered yes (I know I did, but i'm working on changing my habits). Cellphones are changing mealtimes from a social experience to a social media one, which to Mr. Sinek’s point has a negative effect on relationships.

This has not gone without notice in the restaurant world, a few establishments have actually taken it upon themselves to try and shift behaviors, by offering guests incentives to put their phones away and focus on reconnecting with the people they are with. Most recently, Chick-fil-A created a Family Challenge, offering families free dessert if they put their phones in a cell phone “coop” for their entire meal.  Kudo’s to Chick-Fil-A for taking a proactive stance on this issue and actually coming up with a great incentive to keep people off their phones during mealtime.

So the question is, if we know we are a culture addicted to technology, what do we do and how does this change the way we, as marketers, look at mealtime?  How can brands play a role in helping to bring people and families back together over the dinner table? Will there be new apps/technology that help to do this (yes, I know that’s somewhat counter intuitive)? Or will we see more restaurants using incentives as a tactic?

Whatever the solution may be, mealtime is where relationships are built, memories are formed and lessons are learned, so please make the effort to put the phone down and enjoy the company you are with!

- Lonny Sweet, CEO

A New Beginning — Chasing a Dream and Change Peoples Lives

Full disclosure, I’m a “sports guy” through and through.  I’m proudly fanatical about the teams I love, incensed by the teams I loathe, and I relish any opportunity to tell you all about it (ask, if you dare.)  It was that passion that led me to a career in sports marketing; a job I truly enjoyed waking up for every day – some may go so far as to call it a “dream job”.  Alas!  This sports fanatic has recently taken a sharp left turn and traded in his cleats for knives and a career in the ever-evolving culinary marketing vertical.  How could this be?  Who gives up their dream job?  I did – and I traded it to chase a dream. 

Interestingly, cooking (really, food in general) has always been my second love.  I grew up in a home that stressed the importance of family dinners every night; bringing everyone together to share more than a meal – we were sharing our lives with each other. We told stories, complained about work, school and menial nuances of life that drive us all nuts, but at the end of the meal it was always the same.  We were happy.  Well-fed, to be sure (thanks mom!), but it was far more than that.  For a family of 5, it’s not easy to get everyone in the same room at the same time.  Something as simple as dinner made that happen, and thankfully there were no cell phones or social media channels to distract us.  We relied on actual conversation.  The horror! 

Food has an inherent unifying quality that I find fascinating.  If I want to REALLY connect with you, we need to share a meal (and, perhaps, more than a few drinks); I find it cathartic to eat the foods you love with the people who mean the most to you.  As I grew older, my passion for cooking (moreover, bringing people together through food & drink) grew with me, and maybe that’s why I’m here now.

Over the past decade, the culinary world has exploded in the best way possible.  As a marketer by trade and a “foodie” by nature, to see chefs enjoy the type of celebrity traditionally reserved for movie stars and athletes was a sight for sore eyes.   

The meteoric growth of the culinary industry, especially from a marketing standpoint, is why I’m here.  I’ve seen companies activate around food in the last 10 years the way they’ve historically rallied around sports and pop culture.  I’ve seen chefs walk into a room and witnessed the jaw-dropping excitement they generate.  I’ve seen, first-hand, the breadth of what it truly means to be a culinary celebrity, and it blows me away. 

So here I am – a man chasing a dream and I could not be more excited.  I truly believe we have an opportunity to make our mark and be the driving force to benefit the next wave of chefs and the foodies of tomorrow.  The culinary world has been put on a pedestal and with it, we can change people’s lives.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that we can eat well in the process.  That’s my dream.