Now more than ever, your food company needs marketing strategies built on values and transparency. You also need to be agile enough to adjust to changing consumer demands and ever-evolving channels of engagement.
We’ve assembled a map of industry forecasts, content drivers, and marketing tools to help you build such a marketing strategy.
What’s the food industry forecast?
Marketing your brand begins with understanding the landscape. In 2014, Technomic released its Food Industry Transformation (FIT) report. Its findings predicted evolutions and seismic shifts, across food industry sectors, through 2025.
Technomic predicts overwhelming consumer preferences for foods that are locally processed, chemical-free, clean in their labeling, and sustainably produced.
In just two short years since Technomic’s prediction, the definition of health for consumers is already changing rapidly. Words like “natural,” “fresh,” “craft,” and “artisanal” rush to help define health. Brands must also be “healthy” in terms of social responsibility and operational practices.
Consumer demographics and spending patterns increasingly resemble the “hourglass” shape, just as Technomic predicted. Generationally, Baby boomers form an increasingly distinct spending bulge at the “top.” Millennials are the “bottom of the hourglass,” with Gen X in the skinny middle.
Dollars spent, too, says Technomic, will continue to arrange into hourglass proportions. Fewer numbers of affluent consumers will spend more on high-end foods and beverages, while higher numbers at low-income and poverty levels will spend as well, in smaller chunks.
Social and environmental responsibility
Climate change, population growth, and global economic networks already demand that food companies pay closer attention to the social and environmental consequences of their actions. Tightening regulations demand higher levels of operational integrity, not just for food safety and security, but for everything from employee wages to carbon footprints.
Valuable content for evolving audiences
In this new food landscape, there’s no more “one-size-fits-all” marketing. Food brands, even brands-within-brands, need key differentials, unique selling propositions, and demographically targeted packaging (by age, ethnicity, and lifestyle).
Even the largest companies will need new marketing processes to identify and address specific, unique consumer needs.
Visible processes build transparency and trust
It should go without saying that transparency equals trust. In an information age, if you don’t tell your customers what’s in your food and where it comes from, someone else certainly will. Take a lesson from the recent rise in food recalls and debates over added ingredients.
Think of your suppliers as more of a network than a chain. Their integrity reflects on you, and vice versa.
Beyond what’s in your food, says Technomic, transparency extends not only to your practices and policies for everything from employee wages to diversity in the C-suite.
Turn your supply chain into a value chain
A 2014 USDA report explains how new business organization models can set the stage for better product marketing.
Food production is increasingly and inextricably bound up with issues of social and environmental welfare. According to the USDA, companies that merge social mission objectives with core business operating principles wield greater influence and appeal in the consumer marketplace.
Take a hard look at your company values. Before you can tell a values-based story to your customers, you need to know what your values are and have leaders and partners in place who will uphold them.
Food brands in the digital sphere
From the data you supply to the channels you choose, everything you do in the digital world speaks volumes to consumers about the food on their plates.
Huge conducted a consumer survey and found that brands are defined by trust. Most of that trust today is built, not in person between customers and shopkeepers, but online between consumers and brand identities. Your brand is a complex system of ideas and associations in consumers’ hearts and minds, says Huge.
And yet, your best, most trustworthy move may not be to befriend consumers. As this video from The Guardian points out, colloquial banter, wacky hashtags, or tone-deaf emojis can often fail a brand. Opening two-way communication with consumers can backfire into sarcasm or critical feedback loops. Most people use social media to communicate with (actual) family and friends, and brand social media interaction has little impact on their buying choices.
Where, then, do you spend your energy online? Offer consumers true stories and concrete data about their food. Offer incentives for positive customer reviews. Interact authentically with those who express dissatisfaction, and respond in ways that others can see.
Good things come in smart packages
Your packaging does more than protect and preserve your product. Packaging communicates your company’s values and identity. It appeals to sight, touch, and sometimes even a consumer’s sense of smell (hopefully only in good ways).
Form, function, and content
The form your packaging takes should fit the way you want consumers to use it. Resealable, reusable packaging appeals to individual servings and on-the-go eating habits. Transparent packaging shows it’s not afraid to reveal what’s inside.
Communicate a brand identity
Millennials consumers, especially, wonder what their brand choices say about them. Packaging that’s customized to a range of demographic identities will speak to a range of customers, even if the product inside is the same.
Enhance your company ethos
Your packaging is a chance to communicate your values through design, texture, and visual appeal. If customers feel comfortable holding a product, that product sends a subconscious message of trust.
Preserve and protect your food
Of course, your packaging needs to do some heavy lifting as well. Transportation costs, methods, and routes will dictate the types of packages that hold up in transit. Packages must also keep food as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
Committing to a cost-effective balance of sustainability, protection, and freshness can help you make better packaging decisions and communicate your choices to customers.
Your best marketing assets
In an information and transparency age, the more ways you have to get content to consumers, the more successful your marketing will be.
Social media feeds today are great for building relationships. But sometimes they are simply conduits for more in-depth interactions. To put information at consumers’ fingertips, build or join databases with your supply networks. Use or create a mobile app to house your data and to help consumers tailor it to their specific tastes and nutritional needs.
Companies like Digimarc and Label Insight are finding ways to make packaging hold much more than is visible to the naked eye. Their revolutionary barcoding technologies are useful across your networks to trace and ensure food safety, as well as to communicate with consumers beyond the package.
Some of the best advertising still happens by word of mouth and personal testimony. In today’s food climate, every partner you engage can make or break your brand persona. Farmers, suppliers, packagers, and consumers all have their own voices that they’ll use, either to sing your praises or condemn your practices.
Technomic recommends 5 exercises to get your brand ready for 2025:
- Reimagine, reinvent, and reallocate resources to meet the changing consumer demand.
- Act small to grow big with efficient designs, lean labor models, and smart investments in smaller brands that are nimble enough to shift directions quickly.
- Embrace digital and big data with research and predictive analytics teams that can see trends coming before your competitors.
- Anticipate demand for healthier foods, and offer higher levels of nutrition and safety before your partners or retailers ask.
- Commit to radical transparency and partnerships that center social and environmental concerns. That way, activists and startups who might like to will have no reason or room to attack your reputation.
The food industry is entering an age of partnership: The large with the small, the global with the local, the old with the young, and the premium with the economy scale. Your brand success will depend on how you value, understand, and engage these relationships across your supply and customer networks.