Dan O’Connell – CEO

Like most people, I’ve found myself struggling with “what will be the new normal?” (Or, if there actually ever has been a “normal.”) One thing I’m particularly anticipating as a food marketing professional is preparing for food marketing efforts post-pandemic. (I am optimistic we will get through this all. At least, some day.) Even though the future is still unclear, and despite often negative news and predictions, I’m actually excited about the challenge of developing new marketing strategies that make a sensory sale of food and beverage in our future world of social distancing awareness. So, while we are all managing through this and trying to stay healthy, it’s time to think about how to succeed in this new era.

One thing is for sure even to the least prophetic of us: Things will never be the same. To that end, let me begin the discussion with this simple objective premise – food is rarely ever sold to a chef or consumer without the senses being fully engaged – more specifically sight, smell, taste and touch (texture). As food marketers, finding “high touch” opportunities to provide these sensory experiences has always been the key to our success. Cooking demonstrations, retail sampling, food shows, festivals and any other forms of live sampling have played an important role in introducing products to chefs and consumers.

I think we can also all agree with this second premise: It will be quite some time before we ever gather in large crowds to share just such sensory experiences comfortably again. Events involving interaction with servers, buffet lines and food stations at live events, with people discussing, touching and tasting food as a group, can no longer be our primary way of product introduction. I am not saying live events will perish forever – but sampling with a facemask and hands soaked in sanitizer simply won’t sell a lot of food. The good news is that, prior to 2020, we were already living in a digital world, where relationship-building often begins with “socially distanced” communications via the internet and social media. COVID-19 has simply accelerated this trend, and so must we ramp up our marketing efforts to stay ahead of the game.

Ironically, even as our society has become less “in touch” with the world, America’s connection with food has only grown stronger during the last few months. Chefs are busy using their idle time to plan their comebacks. Food has become the great distraction – not just in America, but everywhere. And media consumption is at an all-time high and trending up across the globe!

The moment of truth in buying food will continue to be a sensory event, and the path to driving chefs and consumers to that sensory event will forever be fundamentally and permanently changed. Establishing engaging conversations and using new tools and strategies to get food into people’s sensory zones (that’s a fancy way of saying mouths, noses, hands, eyes, etc.) will require brands to be creative when it comes to driving trial of a product.

Food marketers today are creating customized one-on-one communications with virtual conversations to reach out to chefs and customers where they are. Popular tools like Zoom, FaceTime and Messenger allow for unique, personal conversations and visual samplings of products that can ultimately drive people to engage directly in a sensory manner with your latest offerings.

Moving beyond virtual, there will be opportunities for smaller group settings, allowing chefs and customers the opportunity to sample foods directly. For example, implementing food trucks lets you bring the experience to a select (socially distanced) few. Another effective strategy for driving innovation for a food brand is providing chefs with a preplanned bag of groceries and hosting and recording online forums with them remotely in their personal kitchens. Ultimately, it’s more important than ever to help satisfy the much-needed connection that taste, sight, smell and texture have for people and their relationships with food. How you adapt to these new challenges and opportunities will help the strongest brands rise to the top.

“For the times they are a-changin’,” as Bob Dylan wrote. It will be an exciting time to be a food marketer – after these trying times…

What are you doing to prepare for the “new normal”? We’d love to hear from you!