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Big Food: How Can it Repair the Cultural Disconnect?

Tue, 08/16/2016

QnA with Gina Santana , VP, Strategic Planning Director, Leo Burnett USA

People’s Insights: Big Food companies have lost significant market share in recent years. What’s driving that?

Gina : The answer to that question lives in the context of how consumers’ consciousness and knowledge of food has evolved as a result of access to so much more information. This access is causing a shift in consumer mindset and giving consumers greater confidence in creating their own point of view on food that is alternately shaping a new values-based system driving food choices.

To compete in the emerging values-based marketplace brands must speak to consumer awareness and satisfy their desire for food transparency, quality, health, taste and convenience. Big Food companies were not prepared for this shift in consumer sentiment and therefore not ready with offerings that align to the new criteria driving food choices. This has opened a big opportunity for small, new entrants to gain traction by offering a true point of distinction that appeals to the new values consumers are looking to satisfy.

How have Big Food companies responded to this challenge? Is anything working to stem this tide?

Gina Santana - Cultural Disconnect 01 Gina : A popular response has been the creation of organics/natural/simple line extensions, but we are now seeing more efforts to also clean existing labels either by eliminating ingredients altogether (i.e., HFCS, dyes) or by replacing ingredients with their clean /natural versions (i.e., cage-free, no hormones, real butter). Another tactic has been to acquire trending brands or companies to provide an offering and own share in the values-based market.

It may be too soon to tell if anything is working to stem the tide as Big Food companies will continue to feel the pressure of new entrants disrupting established categories that align with consumers’ values.

Do you see any signs that upstart brands could stumble in their rise? Will controversies cause consumers to rethink the “smaller is better” mindset, and bring new respect for the competencies of so-called Big Food (e.g., economies of scale, food safety measures, etc.)?

Gina: The only thing that will cause upstart brands to stumble is if they lose sight of what their product promises to deliver. There are cases where small brands have been bought by Big Food companies who did not maintain the integrity of the original product offering.

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In these cases, consumers feel deceived and take their business elsewhere or even take to the digital airwaves and let the world know of their experiences and dissuade others away from those products/brands. I suspect that the “small is better” mindset will continue to prevail because these are the brands that are likely to be aligned with the new values-based decision-making consumers are utilizing to make food choices.

What’s cooking?

Papa John’s International, to correspond with their ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.’ motto, announced an investment of $100 million a year to cut artificial ingredients, corn syrup, and preservatives from their menu.

Just recently, a long list of brands threw in the towel and decided to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients. What impact do you expect this to have with consumer acceptance of those products?

Gina: Consumers will likely be appreciative of the transparency being offered. This does not mean that products with genetically engineered ingredients will dramatically affect product sales one way or the other. However, it will put consumers at ease, especially in an age when so many consumers are increasingly prone to avoid foods due to allergies, sensitivities or mere suspicion of risk.

Gina Santana - Cultural Disconnect 02 What’s cooking?

In 2016, General Mills announced their plan to remove artificial colors and flavors from their popular breakfast cereals by 2017.

Are there any demographic or cultural shifts looming that could significantly change the food and beverage landscape over the next five years?

Gina: We will continue to see the impact of a multi-cultural society influencing our taste buds’ fascination with tasty new food experiences.

In addition, our modern lifestyles have all but done away with the three-square meals. We will see every category, every food type in snack version that can be taken/eaten on the-go. All this “Snackification” will create a longing for a proper meal, shared with others. There will also be less stringent rules on what is right to eat when as we see consumers enjoying the kind of food they like whenever they want it, as in breakfast anytime of the day.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s report The Future of Food Communications: Winning Share of Mouth in the Conversation Age .

Gina Santana - Leo Burnett

Gina has over a decade of experience in the areas of strategic planning and marketing, with emphasis on the general market as well as the fast growing U.S. Hispanic consumer population.

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