A Helping Hand

A Helping Hand

              Over the weekend Hurricane Harvey started making its way through Texas and has just begun to slow down. This devastating storm has already killed at least five people and injured many more, making it the worst hurricane/tropical storm Texas has seen in ages. Since this natural disaster struck, people all over the United States are coming together to make donations and raise awareness for the people of Houston. In fact, individuals are not the only ones getting involved, certain brands are also taking action and coming up with ways to support the victims of this terrible storm. Here is a look at what some of those brands have come up with.

              Chobani, America’s leading Greek Yogurt brand, announced that they will be supporting Texas and its residents by packing up trucks with Chobani products and distributing it to those in need. Hamdi Ulukaya, the CEO and founder of Chobani, tweeted “thinking of our friends & communities across Texas. Team Chobani is loading up trucks now. Time for all of us to do our part… #harvey.”  PepsiCO, which includes brands like Pepsi and Gatorade, is taking a different route and pledging to donate $1 million to the American Red Cross. Chairman and CEO, Indra K. Nooyi, stated that PepsiCo is very focused on helping people in need during this difficult time.  

              Non-food and drink brands are stepping up as well. United Airlines is encouraging customers to donate to the Harvey relief by offering bonus miles. More specifically, any of the United airline rewards members that donate at least $50 to the Red Cross will get up to 250 bonus miles, and those who donate more can get up to 1,000 bonus miles. Verizon is another brand that has jumped at the opportunity to help out. Recently the wireless brand announced that they will offer customers in certain areas of Texas with data relief between August 26 and September 8. Meaning that any customers (in the covered areas) who go over their data limit will get the entire amount credited back to their account. Lastly, Walmart sent 795 truckloads of supplies to Texas, per a tweet from the brands action account, “Update: We’ve shipped 795 emergency truckloads of supplies, mainly water to S. TX & 1700 truckloads are due to arrive in the next week!”

         Harvey has hit Houston much worse than anyone expected, it has completely destroyed parts of the city and we do not even know the full extent of the damage yet. Although this has been a quite the tragedy, it is reassuring to see brands take action and try to help in as many ways as possible.

Total Eclipse of the Market

Total Eclipse of the Market

               On Monday, millions of Americans stopped what they were doing to go outside and check out the first total solar eclipse since June 1918. This once in a lifetime phenomenon not only had the average citizen excited, but it also acted as a great marketing tool for multiple brands and companies. From original recipes to moon jokes, let’ take a look at the most creative eclipse campaigns.

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               The first campaign that really caught my eye was Corona. Corona teamed up with Cramer-Krasselt, a creative marketing firm, to put out the perfect eclipse package, “The Corona toast kit.” This toast kit came equipped with eclipse glasses, an eclipse countdown clock, and of course a few coronas. Not only was this a cute and fun way to get people excited about Corona and their product, but the box also doubled as a pinhole viewer which made it even more appealing to consumers. They also put up a stop motion video on their Facebook page to explain how to actually create the pinhole viewer, creating more buzz and keeping customers happy. Krispy Kreme, one of America’s favorite donut brands, offered its famous glazed donut in a chocolate shell to mimic the eclipse. This was a cute and fun way to get guests excited about the solar eclipse and get a donut that tasted delicious! Spirit brand Jose Cuervo came up with fun cocktail recipes that they called “Total Especial Eclipse” and “Dark Side of the Sun.” Both cocktails consisted of interesting ingredients that played off of the solar eclipse, for example the Total Especial Eclipse recipe calls for charcoal lemonade to make it darker in color, like the moon eclipsing the sun. Lastly, Cracker Barrel, a chain known for its biscuits, started posting cheeky social posts that were very simple but still effective. For example, one of their posts was of a biscuit blocking out the sun, which they called a “Bisclipse,” providing consumers a quick laugh with their meal.

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               All of these companies found clever ways to market their products while tying in the solar eclipse. Capitalizing on events like the eclipse is an extremely smart way for brands to make themselves known and hopefully gain some more traction and revenue. Consumers all over America were extremely excited about the eclipse so it made perfect sense for marketers to take advantage of it and come up with creative ways to tie in the once in a lifetime phenomenon. Whether it was through giveaways, social posts, or recipes customers couldn’t look away from these brands just like they couldn’t look away from the solar eclipse.

 

The (augmented) Reality of Marketing

The (augmented) Reality of Marketing

               Augmented reality (AR) is a topic I have previously touched on; my first post was about the explosion of Pokémon Go about a year ago. Unfortunately this post will not focus on the wildly popular game, but on augmented reality in the culinary space as a whole. In recent years, food and beverage manufactures have started to realize the potential that augmented reality holds for advertisers and marketers in the culinary space. As the marketing director of Zappar said in an interview with FoodNavigator, “the key to success will lie in finding creative ways to integrate AR into a broader brand strategy across multiple platforms and locations, rather than slapping another logo on an already-crowded food label because you can.”

               AR has long held potential for brands, with technology and more specifically mobile phones being such a big part of our day to day life, a well-developed augmented reality app can really draw in and help engage youth and adult consumers through games, as well as useful or interesting information about a company’s product. For example, in the summer of 2014 Kraft teamed up with Walmart Super-centers across the nation to create a profitable augmented reality marketing campaign. This AR promotion allowed customers to simply download an AR app and use that app to track their Kraft brand purchases at Walmart Super-centers only. Kraft’s investment in AR technology payed off. Not only did it help them differentiate themselves from their major competitors during peak sales season, but partnering with a huge retailer like Walmart also helped spike their sales. Other companies that have launched augmented reality apps or campaigns include Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

               AR is not only being used to draw in consumers, but it is also being used by sales staff to show how their products can fit into possible retail spaces. Coca-Cola (also mentioned above) armed one of their sales teams in Germany with an AR app that simulated and demonstrated how future coolers, installments, and Coca-Cola displays would look in specific stores; which ultimately lead to a cleaner layout and design for the brand.

               Overall, AR has great potential to become a front runner in the field of food and beverage marketing. It is a relatively new and exciting tool that engages customers in a way they find valuable, different, and exciting. There are already tons of AR games and apps out there so now the key for brands is to make sure they are producing interesting enough material that keeps consumers downloading these AR apps and coming back for more.

Loyalty is Key

Loyalty is Key

               Not all brands have the same products or demands, but one thing that holds true across diverse industries is the importance of brand loyalty. Just one misstep or poor costumer experience can ruin a brand’s reputation; for example, when Pepsi launched their most recent campaign involving Kendall Jenner they lost a ton of money and received extreme backlash for being a “tone deaf” company from many of their customers. So, if you are a marketer or business owner this idea of upholding a good brand reputation should be at the forefront of your mind. Below are three strategies that can help drive brand loyalty.

1.       Technology to create the best customer experience.

These days there is so much value in technology. It is not only a valuable tool in our everyday life, but technology can also be very valuable to help improve a brand’s relationship with its customers. First of all, when customers trust that you are delivering unique service to meet their needs they will return the favor and be more willing to give you their business. This symbiotic relationship will help build trust and maintain brand loyalty. Also, according to an Infosys study, data driven personalization can increase revenue for brands and 86% of customers agreed that personalization plays a role in their purchasing decisions. Additionally 73% of consumers said they prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experience more relevant. Once brands have gained trust with their customers it is much easier to gain user insight and figure out your main demographic.

2.       Social media to show brand value and customer appreciation.

Social media is another great way to build brand loyalty. In fact, 81% of respondents in a study done by BRANDfog said they have more confidence in a company when its executive is using social media. Social media is not only a great way for brands to market their products but it is also a great way for them to show appreciation for their customers. Replying to people with a personal messages or commenting on a consumers post is a perfect way to humanize a brand and deepen the brand consumer relationship. This acknowledgment on social media proves that a brand really cares about its customers, it can help bring in new revenue, and it can pose as good PR for your company as a whole. Showing that your brand cares about customer experience outside of the actual business transaction can be the separating factor between your company and others.

3.       It doesn’t have to be all about product.

Using executives or employees personal brand as a selling point may seem a bit strange but it is a great way to put a personal face to your brand. If you look at Elon Musk at Tesla, or Tim Cook at Apple these CEO’s are always putting their faces forward for their brands. It is important that employees and executives make time to engage with their customers and develop trust with them. Once this trust is formed consumers will feel more obligated and willing to listen to the company’s message.

               Having strong brand loyalty no doubt benefits a company. Making one sale is great, but having the power to make customers come back to you year after year is even better. For a company to truly be successful it is key that they establish solid brand loyalty from the beginning and make sure consumers remain a top priority during all company decisions.

Organic Obsessed

Organic Obsessed

               You’re trying to eat healthy, which means choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. As you wander down the aisle at the supermarket you realize there’s another choice to make: should you buy organic? These days, most consumers would answer yes to that question. Despite the heftier price tag, sales of organic food items continues to grow. According to USA Today the sales of organic food is up to 8.4%, hitting a record of 43 billion in 2016 sales.  Another interesting stat about organic food is that most consumers are only concerned with purchasing organic items if they are fruits and vegetables, according to an Organic Industry Survey from 2017, about 40% of all organic food sales were in produce.

               Whether buying organic produce or protein over the past few years, in general, organic food is steadily making its way into consumers shopping carts and staying there. In fact, a Food Dive article stated that 82.3% of the country’s 117 million households contain some sort of organic food. Consumers are not the only ones hopping on the organic bandwagon. Large food manufacturers, like Coca-Cola, are wasting no time getting in on this trend too. For Example, Campbell Soup created an organic baby food line and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Markets even has the tech world obsessing over the idea of eating organically. In fact, the General Mills organic products have seen a whopping 350% growth in the last 5 years! With huge companies buying into this trend there is no doubt it is here for the long hall.

               Although this trend is serving well for some, American farmers are having trouble keeping up with the massive increase in demand for organic produce. The process of transitioning produce from non-organic to organic takes about three years, and growing organic food is much more expensive once the transition has happened, causing a massive headache for the farming industry.

               The craziest part about this whole trend is that consumers, myself included, are so obsessed with organic labeled foods because we think they are much healthier, but in reality scientists are not 100% if consuming food that’s never been exposed to pesticides actually has a lasting impact on health! Regardless, with 44% of shoppers willing to pay 20% more for organic ingredients I don’t see why markets, grocers, and restaurants wouldn’t stock their shelves with organic foods.

Bugging Out

Bugging Out

                              These days there are no shortage of trending diets, for example the paleo diet. People are much more interested in sustainable living and being environmentally friendly than ever before. One food trend that has been becoming more and more popular is eating bugs, like crickets, as a source of protein. Yes, you read that correctly, bugs can be a great source of protein. In fact, crickets are considered a superfood. They are about 60% protein, are packed with vitamin B12, have more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach, and provide all the essential amino acids. Also, on a more environmental note, they produce much less greenhouse gases than livestock and of course require much less water. According to fortune.com, it only takes 100 gallons of water to produce 72 grams of crickets as opposed to only 6 grams of beef, making them potentially a more efficient food source. All of this sounds great, but who really wants to eat crickets? I have been given the opportunity to try the creepy crawlers and to be honest have not yet gotten the courage to eat them. Although the thought of eating bugs may be scary to a lot of people, Jarrod Goldin who sells cricket powder to manufacturers believes that crickets are “the gateway bug.” By turning crickets into powder, customers can enjoy the benefits of eating insects without actually seeing the critters themselves. Exo, a company selling cricket protein bars, sells flavors such as apple cinnamon, chocolate, and banana bread which doesn’t sound so bad if you ask me. Although the concept of eating bugs for protein (or in general) doesn’t sound as appealing as eating a nice steak, it is a great step for a more sustainable future. Sometimes as consumers we forget about how much we waste. No, I’d never thought I would even consider trying a bug but with all the benefits the whole trend is actually starting to sound somewhat appealing. Companies like Exo are smart to get in on this trend early, because once people get passed the “ick” factor that comes with eating crickets, I think it will be a great protein substitute for us, and even better for the future of the environment.  

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Meal Service Meltdown?

Meal Service Meltdown?

               I’ll be the first to admit that I am not much of a cook; which is why when my roommate started her subscription at Blue Apron, who according to FoodDive is the leading meal kit service by an estimated 17 percent, I thought it was a genius business venture. Meal kit services are convenient, healthy, and can be more cost effective than going out to dinner every night so why are they not performing as well as expected? And why are we seeing companies like Blue Apron flop when it comes to stocks and IPO’s?

               First of all, what started out as an explosive growing business is now starting to temper. In a CNBC article author Nick Wells states that more than half of meal kit subscribers cancel their subscriptions within the first six months primarily because consumers treat their food service subscriptions a lot like their New Year’s resolution to go to the gym, short lived. In fact, according to a study done by Cardlytics, in 2016 nearly three-quarters of new subscribers gave up on their service within a year. These cancellations are a huge deal for meal service companies like Blue Apron, HelloFresh, and Plated because they tend to give big discounts or freebies to draw customers in in the first place, and when that upfront cost doesn’t actually amount to a real subscription the company is at risk to lose a decent amount of money. Another aspect of the meal service kits that is having a slightly negative effect on the business is price. Yes, meal services are good for consumers (like me) whose first instinct in the kitchen is to leave and go to a restaurant, but for consumers who like to cook it is actually much more cost effective to go out and buy ingredients at a grocery store. According to a CNBC trial run, meal delivery service meals cost about $9.99 to $13.50 a portion; while shopping for the same meal at a grocery store would only cost $3.98 to $11.90. Lastly, with mergers like Amazon and Whole Foods it is really hard to predict what is in store for the future of online groceries and how that will effect meal service companies. Data shows that people who use meal kits also often utilize other on-demand purchasing habits, like Amazon Prime, UberEats, etc. so with the growth of that industry it is safe to predict that smaller independent meal service companies will have to fight to stay alive against giants like Amazon.

               Although the premise of this post focused on why meal service companies are not doing as well as predicted, we should not count them out too quickly. There are still a ton of loyal customers using Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, etc. but if these companies want to stay relevant going forward they are going to have to think outside the box and come up with ways to keep their customer subscription rates up.

For more information on meal delivery services and how they compare check out this article from Reviews.com!

 

One Nation Under One Food?

One Nation Under One Food?

              Now that everyone’s Fourth of July celebrations are over and the hangovers are out of our systems, it feels like a good time to discuss food and nationalism. It is not uncommon for people to associate food and identity, as I’m sure the phrase “you are what you eat” rings a bell, but in the modern world, do food preferences really play a role as an anchor of personal and national identity, and should they? In a recent eater article called “Why Food has Become a New Target for Nationalists” the author, Tove Danovich, delves into how European cities, like Florence, feel their culture is being watered down through the rise of foreign food. European governments are even going as far as barring foods from different countries because they do not want their culture to be “diluted or Disneyfied.” To me, and many others this notion of banning foreign foods seems ridiculous, and at the end of the article Danovich makes a great point that no culture has just one history or one food, and if we try to isolate food culture we are just going to keep it from evolving.

               Clearly places like Italy and France have very distinct food identities which is why they want to preserve this idea of their “food nationalism,” but in a place like the United States, which is a country built from different cultures and cuisines, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific food identity. Although something like 88% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, which is a pretty large percentage, this once-a-year event hardly constitutes as a full identity. Personally, I don’t think having a lack of food identity is a bad thing at all. In the modern culinary world we see fusion restaurants, and all types of new trends that allow us to explore other communities and cultures through food. I’m not saying that food doesn’t play a big role in who we are and what we are as a nation, but in the United States I don’t view food as simply the glue that bonds individuals to their community, I view it as a bridge that brings different communities together.

The Merger

The Merger

               If you have been listening to the news recently, you know that last week Amazon bought Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion. This deal will no doubt change the landscape of the grocery business since Amazon is the country’s biggest online retailer and none of the Whole Foods’ direct competitors will be able to match Amazon’s technological power, but how will this merge affect the restaurant industry? Probably not as much as one would think. This deal is going to push the industry, but towards an area that it is already going. If you look at whole foods, it has already taken some share from the restaurant industry, for example some of their stores look more like food halls than grocery stores, and Amazon’s new ownership can only strengthen that competitive edge, but the restaurant industry is so large and diverse that it should be able to adapt. Also, a lot more restaurant sales are going to start coming through apps, with either a third party provider or from the companies themselves. According to a Euromonitor study, online restaurant sales were $12 billion in 2016. Although that is only about 2.2 percent of all overall restaurant industry sales, it is still something. So even though many consumers and employees who are part of the restaurant industry are worried about a giant tech company buying a food company, restaurants have already started to move in the tech direction, and this merger will only encourage restaurants to continue to do more of their business online.

Mythical Mayhem

Mythical Mayhem

               If you have been on any form of social media in the past year you have most likely come across some type of “unicorn” food or drink. This recent trend of colorful food has gone from shimmery and sparkly “galaxy” themed to rainbow and pastel “unicorn” themed but none the less ridiculous. Yes, even I find this trend crazy and I tend to be a sucker for anything bright and shiny. Regardless of how I feel, these types of trends seem to draw in revenue, while simultaneously providing brands with endless free advertising.

               First, it is interesting to note that the unicorn food trend started from a health and wellness blogger and food stylist in Miami named Adeline Waugh. Waugh helped start the trend last year while she was experimenting with natural food dye that added a pop of color to her Instagram photos and got people excited. Once bigger brands and companies started to hear about this trend they took it into their own hands, and took it to the next level. Starbucks, for example, recently created the “Unicorn Frappuccino.”

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This new colorful drink was sold at Starbucks across the country, and “drove significant traffic to chains, as well as spread brand awareness and affinity.” Served for only a limited time, the craziest part about these bright (almost glowing) purple and pink drinks is that even though they apparently taste terrible people continued to buy them. I personally never got to try one, but as seen on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and hearing reviews from friends, they taste like Unicorn vomit. Regardless of taste, the Unicorn Frappuccino helped improve Starbucks same-store sales throughout the second quarter, culminating 4 percent of U.S. same-store sales growth in March, and into April. Also, the number of Instagram’s, Tweets, and posts about this mythical drink were endless; providing Starbucks with free marketing across all social channels which doesn’t even include the mass amounts of traction it gained on television shows, like Jimmy Kimmel Live! (mentioned above) and more. Starbucks is an example of a large chain brand that took advantage of this colorful food trend but many other smaller stores are also jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage of this trend too. The Good Sort, a vegan tea and espresso bar in Chinatown is serving up a rainbow iced latte that has already been featured in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Thrillist, and Grubstreet. They are also getting a lot of social attention just in time for summer.

               Only time will tell how long this unicorn trend lasts, but for now it seems to be working for companies. Whether you look at a large business like Starbucks or a small coffee shop like The Good Sort, these colorful concoction’s draw in a ton of attention which leads to more revenue and company exposure; so, if you haven’t jumped on this latest unicorn trend maybe it’s time to for your brand to brighten itself up and get on board.

Let's Get Digital

Let's Get Digital

               From food and drink to toiletries, you can find almost anything in a supermarket. You could literally spend hours walking up and down the aisles finding items you didn’t even know you needed; but my question is, with today’s technology and ability to order whatever you need with just the click of a button, are grocery stores and supermarkets going to start getting digital?

               The answer is yes, right now, about two thirds of food retailers have online recipes and mobile friendly sites, and at least one third of grocers include online ordering, but these trends are way more prevalent among larger operators. According to the Shelby Report, supermarkets with 50-plus stores are more likely to drive technology in their promotions and advertising, they are also more willing to spend significant time and money on these digital investments. Grocers are racing to get into the game to beat off large competitors like Amazon and Walmart so they are creating promotions that can only be found on websites and mobile apps, as well as experimenting with online ordering, and digital coupons.

               For a glimpse of how technology can affect supermarkets let’s take a look at Kroger. Kroger has over 2,000 stores which makes it the largest supermarket chain in the US and in recent years Kroger has focused a lot on upping their technology. Not only have they put in infrared sensors to monitor foot traffic, they have created a mobile app that can analyze customers shopping habits, and they have started using a digital coupon system. Chris Hjelm, Korger’s chief information officer said, “We want to bring technology to life in the store,” which they have clearly done successfully. These new technologies have not only helped bring in more customers, but it has also cut the waiting time at the supermarket and created a more interactive experience for buyers.

               Digital tools are the perfect way for grocers to fight back against larger companies like Amazon. According to a Wall Street Journal article, 49% of shoppers are using digital coupons and 47% look up recipes on the supermarket’s website. If grocers want to stay in business it is necessary that they start shifting to a more digital industry. Whether dealing with a supermarket that has 2,000 plus chains, or just one, owners should start spending their money on upping technology.

The Rise of Food Halls

The Rise of Food Halls

               Remember when the cool thing to do was hang out with your friends at the mall? Well, I do. In my preteen and teenage years there was nothing more fun than spending a Saturday afternoon in the food court people watching and eating as many samples as possible. Fast forward a few years and the food court concept has gone from low end chain restaurants to high end dining experiences that attract foodies of all ages. With just a slight change in name and a significant change in quality, high end food halls have become a trend all across the country.

               Unlike a traditional food court, the size of food halls are smaller, ranging anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000 square feet. These food halls are getting smaller and compact so they are easily able to fit into existing urban spaces. Food halls are also become more prevalent in mixed-use residential buildings. For example the food hall at Essex Crossing. Essex Crossing is a huge development going up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and one of the reasons so many tenants were attracted to this space is because of the high end food hall being built on site. Food halls are also popping up in commercial buildings. For example, The Food Hall at Main and Rusk which is set to open in the JPMorgan Chase building in Houston Texas, or Hudson Eats the “all-star” food hall at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan that houses stalls like Blue Ribbon Sushi, and Umami Burger. In general, these food halls are becoming a key amenity in both commercial and residential buildings, attracting people who are looking for a place to live, work, and dine in a unique way.

               Upscale food halls are more than just a place to grab a quick bite, they are treated as a true destinations. Everything from vendor placement to seating is thoroughly thought out, providing guests with an immersive culinary experience, and whether there is a constant theme, or a mixture of eclectic cuisines, high end food halls create the perfect place for consumers to explore new dining options at the highest quality.

               Looking at the future of dining, I think we are just getting started with this concept of upscale food halls. If curated correctly food halls draw in a ton of revenue, and there is no doubt we will start seeing more and more of these popping up across the country, especially with the rise of urban development. Although I will always have a special place in my heart for the free samples of PF Chang’s bourbon chicken given out at the Westchester Mall, the foodie in me is excited to see a popular shift towards well-executed, high end food halls.