As consumers, the way we learn about and eat food has changed drastically over the last couple of decades, with globalisation and new technology making the world a smaller place and bringing a plethora of flavours and menus to our attention. The days of having a choice between burgers, pizza, pasta or fish and chips are long gone, with high streets full of restaurants from all corners of the globe. Consumer behaviour in the food industry has been changed forever and the pace of this change is only speeding up.
Anyone with a smartphone (ie, basically everyone – with research indicating that by 2020, 80% of the adult population will have one) now has access to a world of food information at their fingertips. We can find nearby restaurants, see the menus and read the reviews without even getting off our sofas, or we can order from takeaways using apps and get food delivered from premium restaurants by services like Deliveroo. This has opened up a whole new takeaway experience that would have seemed unimaginable not long ago.
Even when we’re not directly involved in buying food, our lives are still dominated by it and certainly, TV and the internet are playing their part in that. Nowadays the likes of Delia, Nigella and Jamie aren’t the only people on our screens teaching us how to cook. Dedicated food channels have brought shows like Diners Drive-ins and Dives and Man Vs Food into our homes, showing us a whole other side of food TV.
Meanwhile, the democratising effect of the internet has given everyone the chance to become a food influencer with just a blog or an Instagram or YouTube account. The success of people like Deliciously Ella demonstrates this, with Ella Woodward going from having a healthy eating blog to having the fastest-selling cookbook in the UK. The effect this has on eating trends is to diversify the voices that are being heard and this has a knock-on impact on the way food is marketed to us and who by.
This has given marketers and brands a whole new range of potential spokespeople, as well as new channels to do it through. TV shows like The Great British Bake-Off have added to this, with winners (and occasionally even non-winners) earning book deals and even their own shows off the back of their appearances on it. The popularity of cookery competition shows has had its own impact on changing consumer trends when it comes to food, inspiring more and more people to try out their own home cookery experiments, thus affecting what they buy and where they buy from.
One changing food trend in recent years has seen an increase in the popularity of buying whole foods from smaller retailers as a reaction to the homogenisation of what’s on offer at the big supermarkets. A lot of this can be attributed to the idea of food and cooking as as lifestyle choice and a way of representing who you are by what you eat and cook. This has turned all of us into food influencers simply through the power of our Instagram accounts and the stylised, filtered photography we use to show off our good food choices and/or cookery skills.
You could debate how much of an impact all of this has on us as consumers, but the evidence is clear when you examine search patterns that when a product like, for example, biscotti is used on the Bake-Off, searches for it spike around both the initial broadcast and the repeated showing. The connection is obvious and it demonstrates the levels of interest that can arise when food products are highlighted, and savvy marketers can utilise these opportunities through paid search ads to showcase their own products at these times.
Finding ways to not only attract us but also keep us is a major challenge with so many competing brands and products and flavours and food selfies all distracting and tempting us. The internet age has turned all of us into ‘promiscuous shoppers’, and we’re used to shopping around for everything from car insurance to mobile phone contracts. We have the freedom, the ability and the imagination to do the same with food, so it’s harder to keep us loyal to any one brand for long, so simply offering discounts and convenience isn’t enough anymore.
The example given above of the introduction of Deliveroo to the marketplace is evidence enough of that scenario, with takeaways now realising that their former USP of being able to deliver the food is not necessarily unique anymore, as any restaurant can potentially do the same, with a higher quality of food available. How traditional takeaways react to this is still something we’re yet to see for certain, but it’s a trend to keep an eye on.
As technology and tastes continue to change, we can expect to see further opportunities and challenges for marketers looking to attract consumers. The dawn of the smart home age has given us the ability to have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device in our kitchen, not only to play us themed playlists for whatever we are cooking, but also to use apps or skills to have someone like Jamie Oliver talk us through the recipe as we do it, and how long til we can tell our smart speaker that we are missing an ingredient and have a drone dispatched immediately to fly it over to us?
It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not long since all of the above would have sounded exactly as far-fetched. The future will bring many more changes to how and what we eat, so the only thing we can do as consumers and marketers is to have an open mind and willingness to try everything.
What do you think about changing consumer habits in the food industry? Tweet us @mporiumgroup. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog so you get our latest articles straight to your inbox.