More than ever in a COVID and post-COVID world, CPG packaging and restaurant menus need to be the workhorse, the salesman, and the savior for products and dishes. Labels and menu descriptors obviously need to provide information of what is inside the package.
In addition, products that have that information front and center, clearly legible, and tout unique attributes will need to do so in a contactless way. Information on-pack will have to be easily read from the shelf without the turn of a bottle, a flip of a package or the squint of an eye. Reduced and no-contact visual on-shelf shopping will be a product differentiator that consumers will appreciate as all the information they want to know will be gleaned from one clear glance.
Contactless shopping is still a niche concept currently, but we expect to gain a lot more traction in the coming year
Restaurants will also employ new tactics for contactless menus. While QR codes are fine, they’re impersonal. We may start to see technologies that allow communication between server stations and tables. This could include apps that connect tables to servers’ phones, where servers can communicate menu information, specials, and suggestively sell, rather than just having the customer rely on a digital copy of a one-dimensional menu. This may be the right time for augmented reality to be incorporated into packaging and menu that enables consumers to look at product/dish details from a distance.
OhWaiter is an app that allows restaurant guests to ask questions, order and pay via text for a contactless yet more personal experience.
Some examples: Wine brand 19 Crimes leverages augmented reality to engage consumers with intriguing content about 19 British prisoners who were sent to Australia in the 18th century.
With the age of digital grocery and third-party restaurant delivery upon us, consumers are using online grocery and restaurant takeout delivery options more than ever. Product packaging, labeling and placement of utmost importance on shelf is equally important on the digital shelfwhere products compete with even larger products set than in the physical marketplace. It’s not just an imperative to have a beautifully designed package or brand image with a pleasing, yet eye-catching color palette.
Now designers must take multiple product sets into account to help products jump off the digital shelf against several different category sets and on various third-party delivery platforms. Depending on the search term for example, a kombucha brand can be positioned against other kombucha products, or in a probiotics search set, or in a functional beverage set, or a tea set. Companies who figure out how to create standout digital design and digital brands with multi-functional design will be the first into the cart and delivered to consumers at home.
The concept of digital shelf is still in its infancy, but as shopping increasingly shifts to online channels, expect this area to become more important for brands and retailers.
A mere eight months ago, some of the top adjectives and modifiers that made food products and menu items more appealing were: hand-made, homemade, hand-crafted, and hand-spun. In a current and potentially post-COVID world, contact is out. Modifiers that connote safety are in. Gone are handshakes, other people’s personal interaction with your food, and ambiguous ideas about the safety and cleanliness of the “home” or “house” within the context of home/house made.
Contactless, hands-free are now not just adjectives to describe a headset, they are buzzwords consumers will be looking for in the context of their food preparation and procurement. A new set of food marketing speak will begin to emerge that connotes safety and cleanliness. “Bot-made,” “sanitation-verified,” the rise of real- not-just-for-science-fiction-anymore mascots and makers. Examples already in the marketplace in this vein, Sally the salad making robot. Into 2021—other cute names for robot pickers, packers, makers, and shippers will appear on packaging. Proudly made by BB8?
Cues pointing to handmade production is becoming less of an attractive claim for consumers. Interest in this claim declined by nearly 36 percent over the last 12 months.
White Castle in October announced that it was adding Flippy robots at 11 of its outlets so as to make food in a contactless way. Flippy is said to be the “world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that can learn from its surroundings and acquire new skills over time,” according to robot maker Miso Robotics.
The planet-saving mission to do away with excessive external and hard-to-recycle plastic packaging has been a bit disrupted as takeout and delivery options struggled to keep up with demand and a limited supply chain of to-go container options during COVID. Post-COVID, consumers will want to “undo” some of the harm they did as they were struggling to get by.
In addition to packaging still needing to stand up to the rigors of delivery, and food integrity upon arrival, new packaging designs now need to be “all of the things” they were trying to be pre-COVID: recyclable, minimal, not contain hazardous chemicals that are bad for the environment or the consumer. They also need to be as lightweight as possible to ship and deliver (lower environmental food-print), but also to be less of a burden for third-party delivery drivers. A good example of a new packaging innovation that attacks all of these problems is the paper bottle being launched by Diageo with their Johnnie Walker Black Label paper bottle.
To be launched in 2021, this new bottle is made from sustainably sourced, food-safe wood pulp.
This points to the future of packaging being plant-based. This relatively new but growing plastic alternative trend in the packaging world is garnering significant interest, much like its meat alternative cousin.
Interest in plant-based packaging nearly doubled (96.4 percent) between 2018 and 2019, but saw a bit of a downward spiral this year, thanks to the pandemic.
Spoonshot data indicates that there had been growing interest in reusable packaging for food and drink products till COVID-19 hit, and we believe that this interest will pick up again over the next year.
Follow the lines.
Ghost kitchens and digital restaurant concepts are flipping the traditional food innovation and restaurant development process on its head. We had already seen the importance of Instagram in driving food trends. We were exhausted by unicorn everything, over the top food combinations, and even gold leaf encrusted offerings.
Ghost kitchens, a model growing pre-pandemic, have really taken off now
Pre-COVID, social media platforms were providing restaurateurs, food brands, and food celebs with an audience obsessed by foodie photos. This drove visits and often lines to physical locations. Post-COVID, when you remove the constraint of physical location, overhead expenses, and labor costs, you empower innovation in food, menus, and even in the type of influencer who can be effective at driving sales.
If one item doesn’t sell, you can change it in a day, generating LTOs in rapid succession. If one digital concept isn’t gaining traction, you can pull it down and upload another to third-party delivery platforms. No expensive menu changes, no re-models, and no perceived failure by the consumer about your brand. We’re already starting to see the type of food influencer change from knowledgeable chefs, to anyone with a following. One example of this is Nextbite, a Denver ghost kitchen company that has just teamed with musician Wiz Kalifa on the “hotbox” concept. Entire food genres can now be created, curated and customized at the speed of the Internet.
Disruptions in supply chains due to COVID-19 forced the wheels of progress to move faster. When farmers, fishermen and ranchers couldn’t find or rely on their supply chain to move their product efficiently, they began to seek alternative ways to get their products into the hands of end consumers and began eliminating the middleman.
Farm produce trucks selling greens and beets off the back of the truck in parking lots in residential neighborhoods, to distributors who pre-COVID sold only to retail, setting up their own easy-to-use online marketplaces and pick -up and delivery options directly to the consumers, to DTC shipping of meat, and seafood—by small local and not so local ranchers and fisherman, consumers were buying fresher and faster by seeking the source.
The pandemic saw a significant uptick in direct to consumer channels, interest in which has grown by 195 percent over the last 12 months.
In a post-vaccine world, we may once again see consumers go back to on-the-fly purchasing, but much like the growth of online shopping, consumers now have a taste of this fresh convenience. Many may choose to stick to the model, thus disrupting the entire food procurement supply chain.
With indoor dining disrupted, Black Cat Organic Farm introduced Mabel the Farm Truck, bringing fresh produce and other foods directly to consumers’ doorstep.
Food hedonists pre-COVID lived to seek out new, unique and authentic food, and beverage experiences. Live demos and chef tastings, whisky, wine, cheese and chocolate pairings, polenta pourings, and even eating in the dark with strangers, all had their moment in the spotlight.
Mostly, people would gather at the restaurant hosting the special events and be greeted and guided by the proprietor. Post-COVID, these experiences will continue to move outside the confines of the restaurant space and become more intimate, shared with consumers’ trusted circles of friends and relatives and more thoughtfully curated to be delivered at home or in small settings or even via Zoom.
Interest in online tastings has shot up since the pandemic started.
From beautifully curated experiential boxes, to being invited into a chef’s home for a restaurant quality meal, to Zoom guided wine tastings and chef catered family meals restaurateurs and products companies are finding ways to share the love of food with consumers outside the confines of their restaurant or Pop -Up. Additionally, many chefs/restaurateurs have started partnering with grocery chains to sell some of their signature items to their customers from where they are already shopping for groceries, at their grocery store.
Consumers are missing their restaurant experiences and favorite items, one way to give them that is to provide multi-serve containers of their favorite sauces, desserts, and easily refrigerated heat and eat items that they’ve been missing. Take Rouse’s, a grocery chain from Louisiana, they have partnered with several celebrity chefs from world-famous restaurants such as Commander’s Palace, Rock and Bowl, Bayonna and more to provide NOLA favorites direct from the kitchen of the restaurants to consumers loyal and new.
There’s no denying that the Black Lives Matter Movement has affected everything, the food and beverage industry included. Though not directly related to COVID-changes, the parallel timing of the BLM movement and protests shined a light on the lives and struggles of people of color like never before.
We can count this as an actual positive change BIPOC people often have deep roots in the culinary heritage of our country. It’s way past time that the culinary contributions of BIPOC people are recognized and celebrated. Some ways we’ll see this manifest is by consumers seeking out restaurants, food trucks, businesses and products owned by BIPOC founders.
Eatblackowned.com and https://shoppeblack.us/2020/05/black-owned-tea-brands-you-can-purchase-online/ are lists of black-owned restaurants by city. Designating a day of the week to celebrate and support black owned restaurants and products, #blackfoodfridays, is a call to support BIPOC food establishments. Restaurants can purchase and prominently place these items on the menu by BIPOC fledgling food and beverage companies. An easy addition would be to the beverage and wine sections of the menu such as: Stuyvesant Champagne—Black Women Owned Champagne Biz, McBride Sisters Wine—Black Girl Magic, Black and Bold Coffee and Tea, Brooklyn Tea, and Kinfolk.
This isn’t just a Biden/Harris campaign slogan, it can be a restaurant mantra and a trend for 2021. Restaurants: Only the Best and Fittest Survive.
Pre-COVID there were a lot of existing and rising issues facing restaurants, from the inability to find competent service staff, to rising food, labor and rent costs, and the stress of having to continually innovate to stay relevant. As restaurants are struggling to stay afloat, they are continually reevaluating their SKUs, menu items, staffing and strategies in general.
The need to expertly re-evaluate and implement new tenets of what hospitality means in an era of “low-touch” will be a crucial way that restaurants can re-set the bar for themselves to be known as the place that “does it right.”
From right sizing portions to ensuring order accuracy, to food-safety and service protocols- there are many opportunities for restaurant brands, chains and independents to excel and set themselves up for success into the future. Even food titans including Yum brands have removed many items from the menu in an effort to cut costs, cut redundancy to stay nimble and competitive. Customers are now more understanding than ever when you remove a lagging, yet niche item.
With more available workers, they can be choosier about who they hire to create a better service experience. With a mandate for food-safety and training, there is opportunity to provide more thorough general hospitality training as well. Much of this was lacking pre-COVID and during times of low unemployment.
Smaller menus have more than quadrupled in the last 12 months.
They are understanding of changes and substitutions as the supply chain is disrupted and this understanding may just pave the way for restaurants to make much needed changes they’ve been struggling to make pre-pandemic.
The result: restaurants that are survivors, not only because they did what they needed to do for customers, but also because they did what they needed to for the survival of their establishments and for a resurgence in real hospitality.
Over-the-top vegan comfort food will be a hot trend into 2021. Vegan has jumped out of the animal cruelty space, into sustainability, and now just into the category of delicious.
With interest rising in the vegan category, more products, establishments and brands have emerged. With variety comes competition, elimination of mediocrity and emergence of true product and restaurant excellence.
With the pandemic, access to many of these products may have initially declined, but interest is expected to pick up again as things start to improve.
Today, you can get vegan meal kits, vegan fast food, vegan ghost brands, and great tasting mock meat and dairy vegan proteins that taste great and perform well. The OG, By Chloe started it, and now it’s slowly started to expand with brands with physical locations.
For example, Next Level Burger in Portland, Oregon, has taken vegan burgers to a true “next level” offering vegan bacon, cheeses, shakes, and more. LA-based Vegan Mac and Cheese Truck plays with vegan toppings to comfort favorite mac and cheese. Even Ghost brands like WTF burger in the U.K. goes above and beyond with their craveable vegan burger builds, delivered on demand. CPG products like vegan cauliwings by Rollin’ Greens, breaded Buffalo- style cauliflower, cashew queso by Siete family foods,let you be decadent with your vegan swaps right at home.
Liz Moskow is a B2B and B2C marketing strategy and business development expert with 360° CPG and foodservice expertise and a proven track record of building and strengthening CPG, foodservice and hospitality brands. Liz provides strategic thought leadership to companies seeking breakthrough innovation and channel development. Liz is a leading Food Futurist, tracking, uncovering, and predicting the future of CPG. Need help translating the trends that impact your business? Contact Liz, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spoonshot equips the food and beverage industry with unprecedented foresight of emerging market needs. Spoonshot’s proprietary food science infused algorithms connect disparate data sets, to deliver personalized insights, predict trends, and identify novel opportunities. Visit www.spoonshot.com for more information.