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Culinary Marketing

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

 

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

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

Why Trends Predictions Matter

Why Trends Predictions Matter

Closing out 2016 meant looking ahead at 2017 and trying to anticipate what it might bring. We do this each new year: reflect on what’s past and think about how it might impact what’s to come. It’s the time of year during which we ask ourselves what we could have done better, how we can turn over new leaves and how we can apply last year’s learnings to next year’s endeavors.

Thinking specifically about the world of food and culinary marketing, how can we apply the patterns of past years to determine what might transpire in the next one, and how can we leverage those learnings to make this new year the best one yet? Well, let’s look at a few of this year’s trends projections to see if we can figure it out…  

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog delving into the minds of Gen Z. This is a generation raised on technology and immediate access to information. They’re poised to be the biggest food industry spender so it’s important to think of ways to grab (and hold!) their attention.

According to Forbes, “A new generation is about to take the food scene by storm, leaving Millennials with their constant search for what’s next in the dust. Gen Z is more likely to eat fresh home-cooked meals and healthier QSR offerings and think that cooking is cool. They prefer stove-top to microwave cooking and are more intuitive cooks. For them, the most ethnically diverse generation, ethnic foods are the norm. This 50 million strong generation – now 5 to 20 year old – have been shaped by the recession and terrorism and as a result are willing to work hard for a stable future. They are financially cautious and demand good value from the foods they consumer in and out of home. They hate corporate greed, don’t trust brands and demand transparency.”

It’s no surprise then that most major outlets are predicting that authenticity, quality and technology will continue to shape the food scape in 2017 – and it’s up to us to board this train fast. Some of the projected food trends leading us into 2017 include:

1)      Immediate access to information: People want more information, about food (and everything else) and as a result we are bombarded with too much content, fake food news and poorly designed recipes. Look for the new foodscape to be simple, stand out, engage and be multisensational – and all that comes through the next generation of food communication through gamification, edu-tainment and AVA triggered content. The digital foodscape is the language of the Millennials and Gen Z.

2)      Augmented Transparency (AT) – otherwise known as virtual reality: AT will change the way we gather information about foods in an immersive, engaging and empowering way. This technology will allow for multi-panel deep dives into the nutritional information, ingredients, sourcing all across the supply-chain to answer questions that shoppers have. From customized recipes, nutrition tours and educational events, AT will offer expert level knowledge on demand and filtered based on one’s personal interests and change the perspective of the food world into a 360-degree view.

3)      Silicon Valley & Food: It is estimated that over $1 billion has been invested in food startups and projects in 2016 alone. Why does Silicon Valley love food? Food meets the sustainability portfolio requirements for investing – and has the potential to make a positive impact on the world. High-tech food entrepreneurs like Rob Reinhart, CEO of Soylent, feels that “the food system is too complex and too fragile. Farms are inefficient due to climate and labor conditions,” and have a different model for a food brand or restaurant. For them the criteria includes having a social conscience, being health driven, solving a problem (life-hacking) and most importantly a mass-market orientation.

I think we’ll be talking a lot more about how to market to consumers through virtual reality experiences in the years to come. Audiences are demanding more immediate access to information and through technology, we’re able to bring it to them in unprecedented ways.

The team here at TCG is determined to stay ahead of the curve and think differently about making sure our clients’ messages are well received and that we’re building advocacy among target audiences. The world of technology is moving quickly and rather than resist, we’re celebrating this evolution by consistently thinking of new and innovative ways to leverage its possibilities. I’m eager to see what 2017 brings and couldn’t be more excited to ring in a new year that I’m certain will be more creative, inventive and ground breaking than the last. 

'Tis the Season for Brands

'Tis the Season for Brands

2016 marks my first holiday season living in New York City. As I try my best to cheerfully walk up and down the crowded streets of New York, I can’t help but notice that the holidays are everywhere you look- from the elaborate window displays on Fifth Avenue to the Rockettes performing at Radio City. There is no shortage of holiday spirit. This Christmas craze is not only exciting for consumers, but it also presents a lot of opportunities for brands to get their names out there and integrate themselves amongst the holiday cheer.

Urbanspace, which was founded in 1970 as Urban Space Management, was created to develop environments rich in creativity where artisans and entrepreneurs can succeed. Every year starting right around Thanksgiving, Urbanspace creates four or five pop-up holiday markets throughout the city, one of these markets is located in Union Square, and was named “THE holiday destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike.” This pop-up offers great opportunities for brands to gain exposure during the holiday season. Places like Union Square are key because they present both consumer and business to business opportunities for brands. From the millions of commuters passing by each week, to the wide range of art, music, food, etc. vendors that are selling their own goods, brands can’t go wrong setting up shop here. Milk Bar, the sister bakery of the Momofuku restaurant group is a great example of a well-known vendor that keeps coming back year after year because of their annual success.

Another Urbanspace holiday pop-up market with interesting branding opportunities is located in Bryant Park. Along with smaller vendors (as seen in Union Square), this pop-up market has larger sponsorship opportunities dedicated to select areas. For example, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Clearly sponsored by Bank of America, this area includes an ice rink, Polar Lounge, and a Snackbar by Public Fare. Another integrated sponsor is Southwest Airlines. To help spread the word about their brand, Southwest Airlines has created “Southwest Porch at Bryant Park,” which offers a full bar, an al fresco lounge, and plenty of power outlets so guests can hang out while refueling their devices (which we all know is very important these days),

The holiday season is one of the most important times for brands. Whether restaurants such as Milk Bar, or a huge corporate company like Bank of America, the November and December months are key for brands looking ahead to the New Year. These holiday pop-up markets are the perfect way to gain visibility in some of the most crowded areas of the city, and offer a lot of potential for new customers and business to business opportunities. So even though most businesses will probably never run as smoothly as Santa’s workshop, getting involved in pop-ups like the Urbanspace Markets is a great way to spread holiday cheer, as well as create new opportunities for individual brands.

- Kate Moelis

Savory is the New Black

Savory is the New Black

We just wrapped up Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here in New York City and while fashion doesn’t exactly scream “food and eating” (cue the “models don’t eat” jokes), the culinary and fashion industries have a lot more in common than one would think.

The culinary world, much like fashion, is driven by seasons and trends. Chefs becoming obsessed with using liquid nitrogen or exotic foraged ingredients one year is analogous to fashion designers basing their entire season’s collection on a color or theme. Considering both the fashion and food worlds measure success with retail/purchases, it makes sense that they both rely on trends to influence customers’ desires to continuously make new purchases. In the words of Heidi Klum on Project Runway, “In fashion, one day you're in and the next you're out."

Because the culinary and fashion are industries that are always evolving, it pushes people to experiment and innovate, causing the same short bursts of hype and media attention. Think of Dominique Ansel’s cronut or David Chang’s bleeding veggie burger: food items that exploded in the media and are so popular that people line up around the block for hours just to taste one. The same media/consumer frenzy can be found in fashion. Remember the years-long waiting list for the Hermes Berkin bag?

There is also a level of luxury and “must-have” appeal that comes with pursuing the finest food, not all that dissimilar to getting your hands on the hottest $3,000 handbag. A twenty-plus course dinner at Per Se will set you back well over a thousand dollars for two people and a reservation is so hard to come by that you’re lucky to secure one several months in advance. Even though Per Se has been open for years now, it continues to be one of the most difficult tables to get because people desire the status and bragging rights of simply saying they’ve eaten there.

These obvious parallels between the fashion and the food world have also produced some delicious (pun intended) collaborations. Supermodel Karlie Kloss is such an avid baker that she decided to join forces with Pastry Chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar to produce her own line of cookies. One of the best-selling cookbooks last year wasn’t written by a world-renowed chef, but rather Sports Illustrated supermodel Chrissy Teigen.

But what I’ve found the most interesting while working at The Connect Group are the creative ways the fashion world is incorporating culinary into its own marketing efforts. For example, a few months ago when Louis Vuitton announced its first perfume, the company asked Chef Marc Forgione to create a tasting menu for their media launch event that incorporated fragrance notes from the perfume into each of his dishes. I think we’re seeing this constant evolution and dovetailing between the two industries because there’s one thing that really will never go out of style: good food.

Cassandre Pallas

 

Food is the New Golf???

There was a really great article in the Wall Street Journal last week discussing how some real estate companies are turning to food festivals as an outlet to prospect customers and sell properties.  

“Food and Wine is the new Golf”, a broker in the article was quoted. 

The article continues on about how real estate companies are using food festivals, dinners parties, celebrity chefs and other epicurean events to tap into more affluent, cosmopolitan and community based audiences. 

As a culinary marketing agency, we talk about how food connected audiences (think foodie 2.0) are an important target for brands on a daily basis, but to see it so clearly written in the WSJ is an important step in the evolution of the culinary marketing industry. 

More often than not its assumed our agency works primarily with food and drinks brands.  While we certainly do our fair share of partnerships in those categories, the non-endemic brands are now becoming a bulk of our business and where the growth will come.  Traditional brand categories such as auto, financial services, insurance, wireless, technology, travel/tourism and hotels are utilizing elevated food & drink experiences as a hospitality platform AND building comprehensive strategies to speak to this highly coveted consumer. 

While I love the quote “Food & Wine is the New Golf”, I believe the influence, reach and power of culinary marketing has the potential to be far stronger than golf ever can be on its own.  #everyoneeats

Lonny Sweet

Fine-Dining Chef, Fast-Casual Food

For the last few months The Connect Group has been helping Chef Marc Forgione open Lobster Press at the new Oculus in the World Trade Center.  This will be our second location of Marc’s fast casual concept and it’s just one example of many strong chef-driven fast casual concepts, a trend that’s quickly on the rise. Our society’s obsession with all things epicurean has become more than a fad, it’s a part of our everyday lives. And so it’s a no-brainer for chefs and restaurateurs to concentrate on opening concepts that provide accessible, yet still high-quality, food to the masses.

Fine-dining restaurants receive the awards and the accolades but fast casual is the best category to scale because it reaches the most people. What Danny Meyer started as a burger stand in a Manhattan park has grown to 100 locations nationwide. Chicago Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless has Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco. “Top Chef” alums Richard Blais and Spike Mendelsohn have FLIP Burgers and Good Stuff Eatery, respectively. And even highly-respected groundbreaking Chef Jose Andres has his successfully healthy fast casual concept, Beefsteak. It’s about creating a new, exciting food at a lower price point. People want an acclaimed Chef’s food for under $20 but, with the explosion of “foodie” culture and people expanding their culinary horizons, they expect something more than a turkey sandwich, plain burrito or typical cheeseburger. It’s not only that fast casual concepts have the potential to reach more people but also more (and different) locations: airports, food halls, shopping malls, transportation centers, etc.

When the National Restaurant Association released it’s annual list of menu trends for 2016, chef-driven fast-casual concepts nabbed the #2 spot. With sales at fast-casual restaurants growing 11 percent in 2013 with total sales of over $173.8 billion dollars, this is not a trend I see dying down anytime soon and I’m excited to see what other concepts some of my favorite chefs will come up with.

Great articles on the rise of the chef-driven fast-casual concepts:

“Why Fine Dining Chefs Are Getting into the Chain Game” – Eater

“2016: Year of the Chef” – QSR Magazine

- Cassandre Pallas

Would you like an appetizer with that new car??

Would you like an appetizer with that new car??

Remember the days (like last year) when the only thing to eat or drink while shopping for a new car was vending machine chips and coffee that tastes more like motor oil than an organic roast.  Well, that may be changing…welcome to the new foodie world order. 

In recent months we have seen a Lexus Restaurant, The Cadillac House and BMW Restaurant, all taking advantage of the passionate food connected consumer to open up new lines to customers, by creating unique hospitality venues and restaurants.  And it’s not just the auto companies.  Retailers like Urban Outfitters recently partnered with multiple chefs to create restaurants inside their stores, Macy’s opened the new Chef Street at their Herald Square location (they also have a great food court in Chicago) and of course IKEA is famous not only for their hand-blistering do-it-yourself furniture, but their Swedish meatballs and cinnamon buns.

So what’s with combination of food & retail?  Well, we think it just kind of makes sense.  One thing we all have in common is the need to eat.  Some of us put more emphasis on the quality of the food or the experience of the meal, but retailers are creatively using the tools of culinary marketing to find ways to drive traffic, create buzz, elevate their customers experience and ultimately sell more goods.   

The indicators points towards more and more brands using culinary marketing as a powerful tool in the shed when building out their strategic marketing plans.  We live in a new world where it is hard to break through and even harder to connect emotionally with consumers, and because of that, food is an amazing tool to help tell a different story and connect on a deeper level with consumers.   

That’s the new foodie world order, and we love it!

- Lonny Sweet

#EveryoneSpeaksFood

To show off their product, Google Translate, Google partnered with 18 chefs, each representing a distinct global cuisine, to open a Pop-Up restaurant in New York City. This is another beautiful example of how food, which is something everyone all over the world appreciates, can be partnered with technology to create a really interesting experience: