If there’s one thing COVID-19 actually improved, it was the sale rates of ambient, frozen and packaged goods in grocery stores (1). With so many families quarantining or isolating at home, stocking up the pantry with goods that keep easily became a cornerstone of less frequent shopping trips (1). Plus, our research shows that consumers are intending to continue their home cooking even if they are able to return to restaurants and home delivery services (2).
This was a boon for producers of ambient food and beverage products in North America. Not only do ambient products include non-perishable items, but they also are often packaged in clearly food-safe and tamper-evident packaging, making it easy for consumers to purchase, store and trust these items.
Such trends represent a golden opportunity for producers of ambient food and beverage to kick their marketing into high gear, focussing on growing their market share while consumer interest and buying habits are favourable.
Transparency Marketing: the Nuts and Bolts
At our agency, we talk a lot about transparency marketing: what works, what doesn’t, and why? (If you haven’t already, read our crash course on transparency marketing here.) (3) Transparency marketing refers to a strategy that emphasizes candid, transparent and honest information about a company’s processes, products or policies in an effort to maintain a trusting and forthcoming relationship with consumers.
This strategy works. A survey from Label Insight found that 94% of respondents agreed that transparency regarding food production and ingredients was important to them; 37% of respondents said they would switch brands (representing a break in consumer habit) if they found another brand was sharing more information in a way they could understand (4).
This desire for information on the part of the consumer represents a rich opportunity for food and beverage producers.
Ambient and Shelf Stable Foods have an Advantage
With the current upheaval of the food industry, people are wondering what the future of food will look like. Read our whitepaper, "The Future of Our Food: An Industry in Flux" for more insight.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 65% of survey respondents in 2019 indicated that they preferred to support purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability (5). Global Web Index reports that “half of digital consumers say environmental concerns impact their purchasing decisions.” (6) It’s undeniable that the eco-friendly movement has gained steam in recent years and it seems to show no signs of slowing down.
What’s more, this affinity—especially among Millennials and Gen Z-ers—is impacting purchasing decisions. Consumers are increasingly preferring to support brands and products which minimize their environmental impacts.
This is where the advantage of shelf stable and ambient food and beverage comes in.
Ambient Food and Beverage Marketing Strategies
Bringing these two concepts together illuminates an innovative marketing approach to the ambient food and beverage industry. Ambient goods, by their very nature, require comparatively little energy to maintain in a grocery or pantry setting. Unlike frozen packaged goods, also popular with consumers but which require refrigerated transportation and storage, ambient goods can be shipped in greater numbers and make more efficient use of energy by not requiring environmental management.
Further, many ambient food and beverage products have built in tamper-evident and recyclable packaging, like sealed aluminum cans. “Options like sustainability, healthy items, affordability and taste all take a back seat to safety right now. Touch points and food that is ‘exposed’ to the environment continue to be a concern for consumers. In fact, nearly a quarter of consumers said they were throwing away or refusing to eat raw produce in the early days of the pandemic,” says Mike Kostyo, the “senior managing editor and trendologist at Chicago-based foodservice market research firm, Datassential.” (7)
These traits alone prepare excellent fodder for a campaign contingent upon transparency: a lower environmental impact, a long shelf life and food safety that consumers can see. "Transparency goes far beyond advertising and mandatory disclosures," explains Label Insight's Laura Karapetian. "Transparency is about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, and trusting consumers to make the right decisions for their personal preferences, beliefs and lifestyle. By doing so, they will gain the trust and loyalty of consumers." (8)
Warehousing and the supply chain are significant contributors to climate change (9) so a marketing strategy emphasizing how ambient food and beverage contribute less to these problematic corollaries can make their products more attractive to the consumer.
COVID-19’s Lasting Effects
As we near autumn and the risk of a second wave lingers, consumers are not yet relaxed and back to their old purchasing habits. Our “new normal” still shows consumers are concerned about maximizing pantry stock, taking extra care to purchase sustainable and locally produced goods with attention to food safety, and continuing to purchase ambient and shelf stable goods which will last in the event of another lockdown.
According to a research study that Pure Branding released earlier this month, being transparent with consumers about the supply chain and health benefits of purchasing ambient food and beverage influences up to 67% of consumer (10). That’s a lot of market share potential that can be accessed through thoughtful transparency marketing.
1 Five ways COVID-19 will change the food business. “Five Ways COVID-19 Will Change the Food Business.” Accessed July 17, 2020. https://www.folio.ca/five-ways-covid-19-will-change-the-food-business/.
2 "The Future of Our Food: An Industry in Flux." Accessed July 20, 2020. https://www.goldbeck.com/employers/areas-of-expertise/future-of-food/
3 “The Value of Transparency Marketing.” Accessed July 17, 2020. https://www.roseagency.ca/post/the-value-of-transparency-marketing.
4 1 Inc, Label Insight. “How Consumer Demand for Transparency is Shaping the Food Industry.” Accessed June 25, 2020. https://www.labelinsight.com/hubfs/Label_Insight-Food-Revolution-Study.pdf.
5 White, Katherine, David J. Hardisty, and Rishad Habib. “The Elusive Green Consumer.” Harvard Business Review, July 1, 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/07/the-elusive-green-consumer.
6 GWI. “Consumers Going Green: Everything You Need to Know,” October 17, 2018. https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-week/green-consumerism/.
7 Bareuther, Carol M. “SEVEN WAYS COVID-19 HAS IMPACTED FOODSERVICE AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR FRESH PRODUCE.” Produce Business (blog), July 17, 2020. https://www.producebusiness.com/seven-ways-covid-19-has-impacted-foodservice-and-what-it-means-for-fresh-produce/.
8 “The State of Transparency in Food and Beverage.” Accessed July 17, 2020. https://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2017/state-of-transparency-in-food-and-beverage/.
9 Ries, Jörg M., Eric H. Grosse, and Johannes Fichtinger. “Environmental Impact of Warehousing: A Scenario Analysis for the United States.” International Journal of Production Research 55, no. 21 (November 2, 2017): 6485–99. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207543.2016.1211342.
10 Pure Branding. “Consumer Research and Insights on the ROI of Transparency.” Accessed July 17, 2020. https://www.purebranding.com/roi-of-transparency-food-beverage/.